Kluber breaks through, finds Cy form in win
The word that Corey Kluber focused on between starts was “aggressiveness,” understanding that he needed to trust his stuff and challenge hitters in the strike zone. The Yankees right-hander believed that he could recapture that vintage form, and he intended to prove it.
Kluber tossed 6 2/3 sharp innings in his longest start in more than two years and the offense jolted to life as Aaron Judge, Kyle Higashioka and Giancarlo Stanton crushed homers, powering the Yankees’ 5-1 victory over the Orioles on Tuesday evening at Camden Yards.
“Getting the win is the most important thing, but I've been saying that I feel like I'm close,” Kluber said. “It was good to finally go out there and string together a good outing. Any win you can get is a special one.”
Enjoying his deepest effort since he tossed seven innings for the Indians vs. Atlanta on April 20, 2019, Kluber battled back from a pair of injury-marred campaigns to provide the Yanks with their longest outing of the year by a pitcher not named Gerrit Cole.
The two-time Cy Young Award winner showcased his cutter, sinker and curveball with precision, limiting Baltimore to one run on six hits and two walks in a 96-pitch performance.
“That's the goal every time out as a starter,” Kluber said. “Our bullpen has been unbelievable thus far this year. They've probably had to cover more innings than we'd all like this far. For them to continue to have that success throughout the course of the season, I think that as much as we can lessen their burden, the better.”
The victory snapped a four-game losing streak at Camden Yards for the Yankees, who had won 18 consecutive games in the Inner Harbor before dropping their last three of the 2020 season.
“Corey set the tone,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “He threw the ball really well and was in command most of the night.”
Baltimore produced its only run of the night off Kluber in the fourth, as Trey Mancini doubled and scored on Maikel Franco’s infield single. Otherwise, Kluber was stellar, pitching out of a two-on jam in the sixth by inducing a lineout and a groundout. Kluber lowered his ERA from 5.40 to 4.15.
“He was really just pounding the zone with everything -- cutter, two-seamer, slider, changeup,” Higashioka said. “I think the big thing for us tonight was definitely making sure that we were pounding the zone and being aggressive with these hitters. I think it really paid off.”
A powerful formula
The Yankees improved to 9-0 in games when Stanton and Judge both homer, including the postseason. They never trailed, sparked by DJ LeMahieu’s leadoff double and a Gio Urshela sacrifice fly -- New York’s first of the season, as it was the only remaining team without a sac fly.
Judge padded that lead in the third inning with his fifth homer of the year, a solo shot to left field. Higashioka cleared the right-field wall in the fourth inning for his fourth homer, solidifying his claim for increased playing time over Gary Sánchez.
“I don't really concern myself too much with who's going to play when,” Higashioka said. “I know if I'm playing my best baseball, more than likely I'll end up finding more playing time at some point. My main focus is just going out there and playing my best every time.”
Urshela added an RBI single to complete the scoring against Bruce Zimmermann, who allowed four runs and nine hits over 3 2/3 innings. Stanton reclaimed the team home run lead in the seventh inning with his sixth long ball of the season, a solo shot to straightaway center field off Dillon Tate.
“I thought our offense did a lot of really good things,” Boone said. “We still didn’t break through with a ton of runs, but we will certainly take five.”
Something to watch
Judge was removed after his eighth-inning at-bat and Boone said that the slugger has been experiencing lower-body soreness during this trip. Boone indicated that he would like to rest Judge on Wednesday or Thursday in Baltimore.
“I'm trying just to stay out in front of anything that comes up,” Boone said. “I’m not overly concerned. Especially through this stretch of 13 games, with the travel and everything, we’re still trying to build these guys up a little bit.”