BOSTON (CBS) — In a surprising move, Red Sox manager Alex Cora named Chris Sale his Game 1 starter for Boston’s ALCS showdown against the Houston Astros. Sale will toe the rubber in Houston when the two teams start the series Friday night.

Nathan Eovaldi will get the start in Game 2, Cora also announced Thursday.

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Sale has struggled in his last two starts, going just 2.1 innings in the regular season finale against the Washington Nationals before lasting just one inning in ALDS Game 2 against the Tampa Bay Rays. The lefty allowed five runs in the first inning in St. Petersburg, including a grand slam to Rays first baseman Jordan Luplow after Boston spotted him a 2-0 lead in the top of the inning. He was pulled from Boston’s must-win finale in Washington D.C. after he walked in a run in the top of the third, his third free pass of the day. He allowed a pair of runs in that short outing, which Boston won 7-5 with a late-game rally.

Those struggles led many to believe that Sale would come out of the bullpen to start the ALCS. But Cora is going with the veteran ace in Game 1, optimistic that the adjustments that Sale has made since his last outing will lead to good things on the mound Friday night.

“It’s Sale,” said Cora. “We’re very comfortable with him going tomorrow.”

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Sale will be opposed by Houston lefty Framber Valdez. He beat Boston twice during the regular season, allowing just two earned runs over 14.1 innings while striking out 18.

Most believed it would be Eovaldi getting the ball for Boston in Game 1, but he’ll now pitch Saturday afternoon. After stabilizing the staff throughout the regular season, Eovaldi continues to be Boston’s best starter in the postseason. In his two playoff starts (in Boston’s Wild Card win over the Yankees and Game 3 against Tampa Bay), the righty allowed just three runs off seven hits and only one walk over 10.1 innings, striking out 16 batters in that span. He’s been as nails as they come as a postseason starter.

He was not so great in his only start against Houston during the regular season. He started against the Astros back on June 9 at Fenway Park, and was roughed up for five runs off 11 hits — the most hits Eovaldi allowed all season — over 5.2 innings, issuing three walks as well. Boston lost that game 8-3.

But he was great against the Astros in Houston back in the 2018 ALCS, starting Game 3 and tossing six innings of two-run ball as Boston took a 2-1 series lead with an 8-2 win. Eovaldi came out of the bullpen a few nights later, keeping Houston off the board over 1.1 innings to help the Red Sox secure a 4-1 win and clinch the series.

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Rookie Luis Garcia will get the ball for the Astros in Game 2. Major League Baseball announced Thursday that Game 2 will start at 4:20pm.

CBSBoston.com Staff