Kluber sharp in Indians' Opening Day loss

March 29th, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Indians may have given fans a preview of what to expect regarding the team’s strategy in 2019 on Thursday.

There’s been no hiding that the Indians will need to rely heavily on their starting rotation after large amounts of turnover for their offense and bullpen over the winter. But despite a strong seven-inning outing from , the Indians dropped their season opener, 2-0, to the Twins at Target Field.

Starting his fifth consecutive Opening Day, Kluber cruised through the first 14 batters before walking Marwin Gonzalez in the fifth inning. He gave up his first hit -- a double by Byron Buxton -- with one out in the sixth, and Gonzalez put the Twins on the board in the sixth with a two-run double to center field.

“He was so efficient. My goodness' sake,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Obviously, they're trying to make early contact. But he was taking the sting out of their bats, which is what you want to do. We got to the seventh and they strung a couple together, and probably the last guy you want hitting off Kluber is Marwin because he's had so much success. He rifled that one in the gap, and that's all there was.”

Since the start of Spring Training, Francona has said that as long as the rotation stays healthy and intact, he believes the Tribe has a high chance for success. Kluber put forth a strong effort to keep his team in contention through his seven frames, but the offense couldn't provide any run support.

“Yeah, it was a good game today,” Indians center fielder Leonys Martin said. “I feel bad for Kluber. He threw a good game, and then we couldn’t score. But, you know, it’s only one game, so we’ll try to get it back next time.”

The Indians’ strategy for the season is expected to consist of riding their starters late into games, getting the ball to Oliver Perez or Adam Cimber in the eighth and having Brad Hand work the ninth. Although this is the order in which Francona used his pitchers Thursday, he had Perez, Cimber and Hand each pitch one-third of the eighth inning to get equal work. How the rest of the bullpen will string together will likely be determined through a trial-and-error process through the first few weeks of the season.

“If it’s the fourth inning, you’re not mixing and matching very much,” Francona said at the team’s workout on Wednesday. “If it’s later in the game and we have a day off the next day, you might see us mix and match because we want to keep the guys’ workloads -- we’d like to keep them somewhat equal these first few weeks because I know the bell rings and the season starts, but they’re still just a couple days out from Spring Training.”

While Francona has said he prefers quality pitching over a hitting-dominant team, the Indians will need to find a bat to rely on while Francisco Lindor (calf strain and ankle sprain) and Jason Kipnis (calf strain) work their way back from injuries. The Indians' only hits were Martin's double in the fourth and Brad Miller's single in the eighth.

Kluber vs. Gonzalez

With the Indians and Twins expected to be the two teams competing for the American League Central title, Kluber will need to figure out how to pitch Gonzalez. After going 1-for-2, Gonzalez is batting .455 (10-for-22) with two homers and eight RBIs against the Cleveland right-hander.

“I just didn’t make a good pitch right there,” Kluber said of Gonzalez's go-ahead double. “I had thrown a lot of good changeups throughout the day today, and that was the first one that kind of floated on me, and unfortunately, it was in a bad spot.”

Martin excited for home opener

Martin went 1-for-4 in his first regular-season game back from battling a life-threatening bacterial infection last August. Although he said he couldn’t sleep Wednesday night in anticipation for his return, the true excitement will come on Monday in Cleveland.

“I know when I get back home, it’s going to be emotional,” Martin said. “I’ve got a lot of people in Cleveland who support me. So, it’s gonna be hard. It’s gonna be fun at the same time.”