The calendar turned, Corey Kluber stepped on the hill and everything seemed to click back into place on Thursday afternoon at Progressive Field.
Kluber showed no signs of rust and punched out 10 batters over six scoreless frames as part of an 8-0 rout of the Athletics, the Indians fourth victory in their last five contests.
Oakland committed three errors and fell victim to another 17 strikeouts, adding to their tally of six defensive blunders and 59 strikeouts at the plate over the duration of the four-game set.
Kluber returns in Kluber fashion
Right from the outset, the four-pitch mix of the 2014 AL Cy Young winner was both sharp and crisp in setting down all but three of the 20 hitters he faced.
“When he comes out and just throws the way he did, I hate to use the word throw because I mean he pitched,” said manager Terry Francona to reporters. “His breaking ball was so good and he was crisp right from the get-go.”
One of the keys for Kluber was his usage of the curveball (41.6%) and slider (26%), two offerings that had the opposition whiffing 21 times…
“That was one of the biggest issues that I had early on in the season,” Kluber said of keeping his competition in check on off-speed pitches. “To be able to have a full arsenal to work with, it makes it easier to go out there and pitch instead of having to struggle through it.”
Kluber was on a limited pitch count, but did more than enough to earn the win for his first start in nearly a month – 6 IP, 2 H, 0 R/ER, 1 BB, 10 K (77 pitches, 51 strikes, 66.2%, four groundouts, zero flyouts).
“It was nice to go out there and not run into any issues,” said Kluber. “The idea is to keep that going for a prolonged stretch now.”
Offense eases its way into massive production
It lasted about five innings, but the home nine took advantage of a number of costly miscues in the field and inconsistent command to score five runs (one earned) on four hits off starter Jharel Cotton, beginning with a run-scoring wild pitch in the third and bases-loaded walk in the sixth.
“I was really pleased,” Francona said. “We had got the one on (the) base hit up the middle and a couple wild pitches.”
Carlos Santana extended the sixth-inning rally with an RBI single before Bradley Zimmer recorded an RBI groundout and Ryon Healy committed a costly error on Daniel Robertson’s ground ball, the third baseman’s second of the inning.
“When you got Kluber on the mound doing what he’s doing, we’re just trying to give him some support,” said Robertson. “Today, we came out and just continued to play our game and that’s all we can do. One through nine, we’re just trying to do our job, get the lineup rolling.”
Cotton walked four batters and was not able to pick up his defense in an inning where the outfield sprinklers caused a delay.
“The next inning, we got a bunch of runners on base and we hit a couple balls back to the pitcher,” Francona said. “I thought we did some good things energy wise, especially (in a) noon game after a night game.”
In a more conventional manner, the Tribe notched another crooked number in their line score with four straight baserunners reaching base in the seventh – Erik Gonzalez single, Jason Kipnis walk, Francisco Lindor RBI single and a Michael Brantley two-run single.
“We started swinging better and adding on,” said Francona. “I was really happy about just kind of getting after it, even when we’re not swinging it.”
Bryan Shaw and Nick Goody hurled two scoreless innings before Danny Salazar logged a clean ledger in the ninth frame, his first career relief appearance.
The Indians battle the Royals on Friday at 8:15 p.m. ET from Kauffman Stadium.
RHP Josh Tomlin (3-6, 5.79) will look to sustain his recent string of success as he is coming off his sixth career complete game last Sunday vs. Kansas City.
LHP Jason Vargas (6-3, 2.39) is closing in on a seven-win season for the first time since 2014. Cleveland hitters have a .282/.364/.436 slash line against the 34-year-old veteran.
John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.