Indians start right as Kluber cools off Royals
Righty fires 7 2/3 scoreless innings with eight K's in series opener
CLEVELAND -- Corey Kluber headed off the hill and the crowd at Progressive Field rose to its feet on Friday night. With each step he took, the cheers grew louder, celebrating his performance against the Royals and begging for an acknowledgement from the pitcher.
His head down, his expression unchanged, Kluber headed into the dugout without as much as a flinch. It was fitting representation of Kluber, who quietly stays out of the way in the clubhouse and lately has held steady ground during tense situations on the diamond.
"He doesn't get too wound up on the outside," manager Terry Francona said. "But he's got a little bit going inside."
In a 3-0 victory over Kansas City, Cool Corey Kluber led the charge with another strong effort for Cleveland. The right-hander pitched into the eighth inning, outdueled lefty Bruce Chen and successfully navigated out of the one jam the Royals managed against him in the opener of this three-game series.
It marked the Tribe's American League-leading 12th shutout victory.
To claim this win, a three-run push by the Indians in the seventh inning proved sufficient in light of the way Kluber pitched. Working in place of closer Chris Perez, who was unavailable due to his recent workload, rookie reliever Cody Allen sealed the victory by escaping a bases-loaded situation in the ninth to pick up the save.
"I'm glad we did get a win for him," center fielder Michael Bourn said. "You can't be too much better than that. I mean, a no-hitter, but that doesn't happen every day. He had his stuff working. He had them off-balance, in front, late. All of them. Tip of the cap to him, because he was the one who won it."
Kluber has been one of the Tribe's top arms for nearly two months.
Over his past dozen starts, dating to May 15, Kluber is 5-3 with a 3.34 ERA, and his win total could have been higher had the bullpen played along throughout. Across that same span, the right-hander -- in Triple-A Columbus when the season opened -- has piled up 74 strikeouts against just 16 walks in 72 2/3 innings (a touch over six innings per start on average).
"I think part of it's confidence," Kluber said of his recent strides. "I think it's just continuing to learn while I'm out there. I think it's a continuous learning process, pitching in the big leagues, so it's just trying to take both the good and bad from things I've done in the past and trying to apply it each time out."
Kluber (7-5) was again on his game against the Royals, who managed just three hits in his 7 2/3 innings. The righty ended the evening with 10 outs via grounders, eight strikeouts, three walks and one escape act.
"I got into a little bit of trouble in the fifth," Kluber said. "But I was able to kind of step back, take a deep breath and calm back down, and get out of it."
In the fifth inning, David Lough sent a pitch just out of reach of diving first baseman Nick Swisher, and into the right-field corner for a leadoff triple. Kluber later issued a pair of walks to load the bases with one out for the top of the Royals' order.
Kluber settled down, locked in and responded with a strikeout of Alex Gordon. The right-hander then used a curveball to induce a chopper off the bat of Eric Hosmer. The comebacker skipped to the right side of the mound, but Kluber snared it from the grass and sprinted to first base for an inning-ending out.
To back Kluber up, the Indians needed to get Chen off the mound.
The lefty has a history of tormenting the Tribe and it was no different on Friday.
"He's a magician out there," Indians designated hitter Mark Reynolds said.
Cleveland's game-winning rally followed six stellar innings from Chen, who has gone 6-1 with a 3.41 ERA against the Indians over the past four seasons. In his latest outing, the lefty limited the Indians to one hit -- a leadoff double in the fifth to Carlos Santana. Chen set down the next three hitters he faced following Santana's hit, and the pitcher ended the evening with four strikeouts and one walk.
In the seventh inning, Kansas City turned the game over to lefty Tim Collins, who promptly allowed back-to-back singles to Jason Kipnis and Swisher. At that juncture, the Royals handed the ball to right-hander Aaron Crow, who surrendered a run-scoring single to Santana. On the play, Kipnis slid away from a tag attempt by catcher Salvador Perez, slapped the plate and put the Tribe up, 1-0.
"Bruce was outstanding," Crow said. "I came in there and my job was to keep those runs from scoring and I didn't do it."
Reynolds settled into the batter's box mired in a 2-for-35 slump, and stunned everyone in the stadium with a bunt. The pitch from Crow was chopped to the left side of the mound, where it hopped into no-man's land for an unlikely single to load the bases.
"I think that caught everybody on the Royals, in the stands, in the press box and me by surprise," Francona said. "But, it might have won us the game. That was unbelievable."
Bourn -- out of the starting lineup for a scheduled day off -- entered as a pinch-hitter and delivered a two-run double to push the Indians in front, 3-0.
That was more than enough for Kluber on another impressive night.
If Kluber keeps it up, the cheers from the home crowd will only get louder. Perhaps then Cool Corey will be forced to crack a smile, or even doff his cap.
"He certainly stays composed," Francona said. "For a young pitcher, that's a big compliment."