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Kluber hit hard by Cards in shortest career start

Indians ace tagged for 6 runs before exiting in 2nd inning
MLB.com @MLBastian

ST. LOUIS -- It seems surprising when Corey Kluber flinches just enough for a team to push a few runs across, given the standard that the Indians' ace has set over the past several seasons. So, what took place on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium bordered on unimaginable.

In the midst of what has been a brilliant season, Kluber labored through arguably the worst start of his career in an 11-2 loss to the Cardinals, convincing Tribe manager Terry Francona to pull the pitcher after only five outs recorded. Kluber walked off the mound in the second inning amidst cheers from the St. Louis faithful, who had to be as stunned as anyone to see the two-time American League Cy Young Award winner hit the showers so soon.

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ST. LOUIS -- It seems surprising when Corey Kluber flinches just enough for a team to push a few runs across, given the standard that the Indians' ace has set over the past several seasons. So, what took place on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium bordered on unimaginable.

In the midst of what has been a brilliant season, Kluber labored through arguably the worst start of his career in an 11-2 loss to the Cardinals, convincing Tribe manager Terry Francona to pull the pitcher after only five outs recorded. Kluber walked off the mound in the second inning amidst cheers from the St. Louis faithful, who had to be as stunned as anyone to see the two-time American League Cy Young Award winner hit the showers so soon.

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Kluber did not blame Francona for having such a quick hook.

"It's hard to blame him, isn't it?" Kluber said. "I wasn't really giving him much hope, much to lean on there. I was struggling to get outs and at that point in time it's the second inning and you're trying to limit the damage and still give your team a chance to win."

Kluber allowed six runs on six hits -- including a pair of home runs -- in 1 2/3 innings and ended with two strikeouts, one walk and 48 pitches thrown. The right-hander did not blame his disrupted pregame routine due to the 86-minute rain delay or cite having to wield a bat unlike in the American League. The pitcher said he felt fine physically, too.

Video: CLE@STL: Kluber strikes out Pham in the 1st inning

Kluber's only explanation for Tuesday's rough outing was a lack of command and an inability to quickly correct the problem.

"No excuses. I just didn't get the job done," Kluber said.

The ace was greeted by a leadoff homer by Matt Carpenter in the first inning and knocked out of the contest after a three-run shot from Jose Martinez in the second. Martinez's blast capped off a five-run outburst in the second, giving the Cardinals a 6-2 lead.

Two batters before Martinez ended Kluber's night, Carpenter contributed an RBI single. The two hits off the ace for the Cardinals third baseman ignited a 5-for-5 performance that included two homers, three extra-base hits and five runs scored. Carpenter added a solo shot off Tribe reliever George Kontos in the eighth.

Carpenter is 8-for-9 through the first two games in this three-game Interleague set against the American League Central-leading Indians.

"Most Major League hitters," Kluber said, "if you leave balls in the middle of the plate, they're going to hurt you. We've done that a fair amount to him the first couple nights and he's taken advantage of it."

Video: CLE@STL: Carpenter collects 5 hits, 2 HRs vs. Indians

Kluber's start was the shortest of his career, with the previous low being a two-inning, rain-shortened outing against the Rays on May 31, 2013. His previous low for a start not impacted by weather was 2 2/3 innings, done twice (May 9, 2016, against the Astros and Sept. 1, 2014, against the Tigers).

The abbreviated outing also ended a run of 39 consecutive starts consisting of at least five innings for Kluber. That was the sixth-longest streak of its kind in the Indians' long, storied history. The six runs pushed Kluber's season ERA to 2.54, which is the highest it's been since sitting at 2.62 after his eighth start of the year on May 8.

"He didn't command very well," Francona said. "They're swinging the bats, they feel good about themselves, and when we made a mistake, they made him pay. He's human. I don't think guys go 35 starts without having a bump in the road."

Kluber's performance was a drastic departure from his only other career appearance against the Cardinals. On May 13, 2015, he tied Bob Feller's franchise record for strikeouts in a regulation game with 18 against St. Louis. Kluber did that over eight shutout, one-hit innings.

On Tuesday night, Kluber was off from the start.

"He's one of the best in that league, for sure," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "And we know what it looks like when he's dialed in. That was a special night what we witnessed there [in 2015]. I think our offense came out with a better plan, probably better than last time."

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
False start: The Indians had four of their first six batters reach against Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez in the first inning, helping the Tribe to a quick, 2-0 advantage. Francisco Lindor (single) and Michael Brantley (walk) reached to open the frame and later scored on back-to-back, two-out, RBI singles from Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis. From there, Martinez held Cleveland to no runs and a 3-for-19 showing the rest of the way. The righty ended with eight strikeouts and one walk in six innings en route to a win.

Video: CLE@STL: Kipnis laces RBI single to right in the 1st

HE SAID IT
"One of the things we said collectively and went over in our hitters' meeting was being aggressive and not letting him get ahead. This is not a guy you want to be behind in the count in. And being aware that most of his success is the illusion of what looks like a ball that you're going to take and it ends up as a strike. That's what he's really good at. Being aware of that and being ready for that. I thought we executed that to a tee." --Carpenter, on the Cardinals' approach vs. Kluber

"It's definitely a strange thing, but you're also trying to take a step back and figure out what we could have done differently. It's one of those things. Tip your caps to them. They were putting up some good at-bats, they put some good swings on them, but we'll learn from it." --Indians catcher Yan Gomes, on Kluber's struggles

SOUND SMART
The 0-for-4 showing for Jose Ramirez snapped his career-best on-base streak at 32 games. Over that stretch, the Indians third baseman hit .298 (34-for-114) with 10 homers, six doubles, 21 RBIs and 26 runs scored. It marked the first time since May 20 that Ramirez did not reach base when having at least four plate appearances.

Carpenter became the 18th player (19 times) in MLB history to have at least two homers, five hits and five runs in a game. He is the first Cardinals hitter to achieve the feat. Carpenter joined Kansas City's Norm Siebern (May 5, 1962) and Detroit's Hoot Evers (July 7, 1951) as the only players in history to have a five-hit, five-run game against Cleveland.

UP NEXT
Rookie right-hander Shane Bieber (2-0, 2.45 ERA) is scheduled to take the mound on Wednesday night, when the Cardinals host the Indians in an 8:15 pm. Interleague clash at Busch Stadium. Through three career starts, Bieber has 22 strikeouts vs. three walks in 18 1/3 innings. He will be opposed by St. Louis righty Jack Flaherty (3-2, 2.50 ERA).

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Corey Kluber