All of those losing skids went by the wayside last night in muggy yet windy Arlington, Texas thanks to a local boy turned good. Of all of the surprising storylines with the Indians thus far in 2013, perhaps the biggest shocker has been the rise of starting pitcher Corey Kluber.
Kluber was acquired from San Diego on July 31, 2010 as a part of a three-team deal which sent the ultra-consistent Jake Westbrook to St. Louis. He has been in the organization for just about three years and has been looked at mostly as an afterthought; a rotation filler kind of guy. Kluber got a taste of the majors down the stretch last year, making 12 starts. He certainly didn’t get anyone too excited with his 5.14 ERA and 1.49 WHIP, but he did strike out 54 in 63 innings.
Heading into Spring, Kluber was in the race for the fifth starter job, but he was a long shot. Even with a shot to get a spot start during that first week of the season with Carlos Carrasco suspended and Scott Kazmir on the DL, the Indians chose rookie Trevor Bauer over Kluber. But Kluber continued to bide his time in Columbus and when Brett Myers went down, Kluber got the call to replace him in the rotation.
I will be the first to admit I was very skeptical about what the 27-year old righty could do based on what I saw in August and September last year. But here we are with Kluber now looking like a solid, back-end of the rotation, steady innings eater with upside. Last night, he put on a virtuoso performance when his team needed it the most.
For seven innings, Kluber held one of the best offensive attacks in baseball scoreless. Normally, we see him as a strikeout/fly ball pitcher. But last night, he channeled his inner Westbrook and had the Rangers pounding the ball into the ground. 14 of the outs Kluber recorded came via the ground ball. Normally when he is at his best, he has a high strikeout count, but last night, Kluber K’d just three. However he did it, it was the exact kind of performance his team desperately needed to end their losing streak. And he did so right in his own backyard.
“It really wasn’t any different than another game,” Kluber said. “I’ve seen, I couldn’t tell you how many games here. I’ve thrown here in college summer league. … It really didn’t feel any different.”
On the night Corey went eight innings, allowing one run on six hits. Three double plays certainly helped his cause (I have to mention the absolute seed Michael Brantley threw to Reynolds at third in the sixth to nail Leury Garcia).
“He’s getting better right in front of our eyes,” Manager Terry Francona said. “For him to go out there today and kind of shoulder that responsibility, we’re really proud of him.”
The offense is still a work in progress and there were some positives that came out of this one. Facing lefty Derek Holland, who has owned the Indians during his career, it looked like another long night was ahead of them. Holland struck out the side in the first. They got two hits in the second, but nothing came of it. They put two more on an inning later but again didn’t score. In the fourth, they managed to push across the first run of the game on a Mark Reynolds RBI single, scoring Ryan Raburn who had doubled.
The fifth was where they finally got to Holland.
Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles started the frame with back to back singles and both advanced into scoring position on an error from Holland. Drew Stubbs, hitting leadoff in place of Michael Bourn (day off), reached down for a pitch and drove it to left for a single which scored both Gomes and Aviles. A frustrated Holland then hit Kipnis, bringing the struggling Nick Swisher to the plate. Hitting right-handed, Swish drove in his 23rd run of the season with a single to center.
But just as you think the Tribe offense is on the verge of a breakout, things quickly skid to a halt. After a Raburn flyout, Holland walked Santana and was lifted for reliever Kyle McClellan. With two on and one out, Reynolds swung at the first pitch and grounded into an inning-ending double play. They would put runners on in each of the last four innings, including stealing three bases off of catcher A.J. Pierzynski, but never could make the game a laugher. The Tribe was just 3-14 with runners in scoring position and added the insurance run in the seventh on a walk, a steal, and a wild pitch.
But hey, lets stay positive here. Kluber was fantastic and the Indians finally ended their skid. Take away his one bad start in Detroit on May 10th where he gave up eight earned runs in four and two-thirds and Kluber has an ERA of 3.08, a WHIP of 1.09, and has 53 K’s in 52.2 innings of work (h/t @MLBastian). That is all you can ask for from a back end of the rotation starter.
“It’s unbelievable,” Reynolds said. “Every time he pitches, we know there’s a chance that we’re going to win. Just the fact that he throws strikes and keeps us in the game. I think the best example of it was in New York, when he gave up six early and then held them down the rest of the time. A lot of guys would’ve mailed it in. He stayed out there and battled all night. I think tonight he got rewarded for it.”
The brutal nine-game trip finally comes to an end tonight. The Tribe gets a shot to take the series in Texas when they send Ubaldo Jimenez (4-4, 5.03 ERA) to the mound. He will match up with Nick Tepesch (3-5, 3.92 ERA).
(AP Photo/LM Otero)