Indians-Red Sox Preview
No pitcher in the American League has been tougher to hit than Danny Salazar, but no team has collected more than the Boston Red Sox.
An intriguing three-game series between the Red Sox and Cleveland Indians concludes Sunday when Salazar puts a string of strong starts on the line against the majors' best offense.
Boston's formidable lineup was held in check by Corey Kluber as the Indians won Friday's opener 4-2, but returned to its heavy-hitting ways in Saturday's 9-1 victory. The Red Sox recorded 13 hits - six for extra-bases - to raise their MLB-leading average to .295 and halt Cleveland's season-high five-game winning streak.
Mookie Betts had a grand slam and a solo homer among three hits and Jackie Bradley Jr. singled in the sixth inning to extend his hitting streak to 26 games, the longest by a Red Sox player in the same season since Manny Ramirez hit in 27 straight in 2006.
Bradley is batting .411 with eight home runs and 29 RBIs over the run and is 2 for 3 lifetime against Salazar (4-2, 1.80 ERA), though reaching safely against the hard-throwing right-hander has been more of a challenge this season. He's limited opposing hitters to a .157 average through eight starts, trailing only Jake Arrieta for the lowest mark among qualified pitchers.
Salazar also ranks among the AL leaders with 61 strikeouts and has eight or more in four consecutive starts. He notched eight while holding Cincinnati to a run on five hits over 7 1/3 innings in Tuesday's 13-1 rout, improving to 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA over his last three outings.
"He's a stud. He's definitely taken the next step forward," Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis told MLB's official website. "He's pitching like a top-of-the-rotation guy, which he is. He's not just a thrower anymore. He's not just a guy coming out, throwing 97. You're seeing him work really well off of his changeup and his slider, and he's really figuring out what he is as a pitcher. It's fun to watch."
Salazar was equally as good in two wins over the Red Sox last season, yielding two runs and eight hits over 12 1/3 innings.
Boston (26-17) counters with Rick Porcello (6-2, 3.51), who's taken a step back after opening his 2016 campaign with five consecutive wins. He's 1-2 with a 4.82 ERA in three starts since and allowed four earned runs over a season-low five-plus innings in Tuesday's 8-4 loss at Kansas City.
Porcello has won each of his four home starts and is 4-1 with a 1.42 ERA in his last five meetings with the Indians.
After amassing 43 runs and hitting .346 during its four-game sweep of the overmatched Reds, Cleveland (22-18) has had its bats cooled off in this series. Joe Kelly carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning in his return from the disabled list and the Indians managed two total in Saturday's defeat.
''Squared up a few balls, but they made plays defensively,'' manager Terry Francona said.
Carlos Santana accounted for Cleveland's lone run with a ninth-inning homer, his third in three games. He's hitting .308 with three homers in 39 at-bats against Porcello.