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Kluber on point as Tribe rolls in rubber game

Melky, Alonso, Encarnacion belt home runs against Tigers
July 29, 2018

DETROIT -- There was a theme to both of the seasons that ended with Corey Kluber as the American League Cy Young Award winner. The Indians ace seemingly found another gear as the summer wore on, overpowering hitters in the second half at historic rates.The Tribe would love nothing more

DETROIT -- There was a theme to both of the seasons that ended with Corey Kluber as the American League Cy Young Award winner. The Indians ace seemingly found another gear as the summer wore on, overpowering hitters in the second half at historic rates.
The Tribe would love nothing more than for Kluber to repeat that formula this year and Sunday's 8-1 victory over the Tigers at Comerica Park sure looked like a step in the right direction. In the wake of some health woes and numbers atypical given Kluber's reputation, the leader of the rotation looked like himself again.
"He was good," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He's working back. He's so diligent. You can see him getting closer and closer."
Backed by a trio of home runs, Kluber guided the AL Central-leading Tribe in the rubber game of the series behind 7 1/3 strong innings.
The right-hander mixed and matched with his entire repertoire, getting called strikes with his two-seamer and swings and misses with his curve. The cutter proved helpful in generating grounder after grounder. When the smoke cleared, Kluber allowed just one run on five hits, finishing with five strikeouts and one walk.
With the win, Kluber improved to 13-6 with a 2.79 ERA on the season. His performance was a dramatic upgrade over his previous five turns, during which he logged a 6.23 ERA in 26 innings. The driving factor behind those struggles was a right knee issue, which was addressed with a gel injection prior to the All-Star break.
Kluber said he felt better in his mechanics this time around.
"For the most part, yes," said Kluber, who took home the AL Cy Young in 2014 and '17. "I think there was still times where I might've felt a little off, but I was able to make the adjustments a little bit quicker.
"That's part of it. Even when things do feel good, if you throw a bad pitch, you want to be able to make the adjustment to get back to where you want to be and execute the next one. So, I think that was encouraging."
Following a quiet showing on Saturday, the Indians' offense was aggressive in chasing Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann from the contest after just three innings. Melky Cabrera (solo shot in the second) and Yonder Alonso (two-run blast in the third) each took Zimmermann deep. Francisco Lindor (RBI single) and Jose Ramirez (sac fly) chipped in, too.

The Tigers asked their bullpen cover the final six frames and that slowed the Tribe down until the seventh, when Edwin Encarnacion drilled a solo shot off Daniel Stumpf. Facing Buck Farmer in the eighth, Rajai Davis (three extra-base hits) doubled and later scored on an RBI single by Encarnacion, while Alonso added an RBI double.
That was plenty of support for Kluber, whose lone setback came in the first inning. Leonys Martin led off with a bunt single up the first-base line that eluded the pitcher's glove and later came around to score on a groundout by Nicholas Castellanos. Kluber cruised from there, holding the Tigers to a 2-for-18 showing from the third inning on.
"He's going in the right direction," Francona said. "And he's not going to short-change you on effort. He's getting closer. He'll be fine."
Melky delivers: The Indians have been searching for consistency out of their outfield (while exploring potential alternatives via trade) and Cabrera has helped shore things up of late in right. In his first seven games back from Triple-A, the veteran was 8-for-22 (.364 average) with an .846 OPS. In Sunday's win, Cabrera added two more hits, including a go-ahead solo homer in the second inning -- his first home run since Sept. 3, 2017.

"It's not just what Melky can do," Francona said, "but because he switch-hits, I think it makes [outfielder Brandon Guyer] better. We have a chance to have Guyer face the guys we want him to. So, [Cabrera hitting well] helps in a number of ways."
Over Yonder: Alonso entered Sunday's tilt with the Tigers with a .306 average and .915 OPS in the month of July. The first baseman -- who launched a key homer in Friday's win here -- belted a two-run shot to right off Zimmermann in the third inning to put the Tribe up, 5-1. It was Alonso's 18th blast of the season and his fifth in the past eight games.

Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias had the makings of an infield single in the second, when he chopped a pitch from Kluber towards the hole on the left side. Lindor swiftly ranged to his right and snared the grounder with a sliding, backhand grab. In one smooth motion, the All-Star shortstop spun and popped to his feet while firing the ball to Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis for a forceout.

Ramirez finished 0-for-2, but he reached base twice via walks, stole a base and scored two runs. Over the past seven games, the Indians' AL MVP contender has gone 0-for-16, but he has still managed a .414 on-base percentage thanks to 11 walks and one hit-by-pitch. Sunday's strikeout snapped a whiff-free streak spanning 32 plate appearances.

"I wouldn't say he's struggling," hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo said. "You look at his at-bats and they're quality at-bats every time. When he comes up, you feel good about it."
Right-hander Shane Bieber (5-2, 4.80 ERA) is scheduled to take the ball for the Tribe at 8:10 p.m. ET on Monday, when they open a three-game series against the Twins at Target Field. It will be a return to the site of Bieber's MLB debut on May 31, when he allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings in a no-decision. Minnesota will counter with righty Ervin Santana (0-0, 5.40 ERA).

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