CLEVELAND -- Indians ace Corey Kluber had to squeeze the baseball a little tighter on Monday night. The cold wind off the shores of Lake Erie has been hindering pitchers' ability to find a comfortable grip over the past few days, but Kluber hardly looked bothered.Kluber found something that worked
CLEVELAND -- Indians ace Corey Kluber had to squeeze the baseball a little tighter on Monday night. The cold wind off the shores of Lake Erie has been hindering pitchers' ability to find a comfortable grip over the past few days, but Kluber hardly looked bothered.
Kluber found something that worked and then put on a vintage performance, striking out 13 and notching his first win of the season in a 2-0 victory over the Tigers at Progressive Field. The pitcher's sinker zipped across the zone with late life, his curve dove away from bats and catcher Yan Gomes did all he could to corral each offering.
"That thing was moving everywhere," Gomes said. "It's pretty crazy, man. His ball was dancing. He just makes an adjustment, just to figure out how to throw more strikes."
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Over eight innings, not one baserunner advanced as far as second base against Kluber, who scattered two singles in the performance. Ten of Kluber's strikeouts came within the first five frames, including striking out the side in the fifth. The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner did issue one walk in the sixth, but he quickly escaped any harm. Andrew Miller worked the ninth inning for his first save.
Kluber ended the evening with a 1.57 ERA and turned in his franchise-leading 29th game with at least 10 strikeouts and no more than one walk. That moved Kluber into a tie with Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax for ninth all-time for that kind of performance.
"It's tough," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "You can sit there and watch on TV, and everything seems so easy to do. But, when you're up there at the plate, I'm telling you, it's so different. His ball has late movement. It's darting, and he's just got great stuff."
The Indians' lineup struggled to mount much of an attack in frigid conditions -- the first-pitch temperature has been 33 degrees on average over the past three days -- but one Bradley Zimmer home run was sufficient in supporting Kluber's gem.
Tigers lefty Francisco Liriano was also strong out of the gates, holding the Indians without a hit for 15 batters to open his outing. That dominant stretch came to a close in the fifth, when Gomes singled and Zimmer followed with a no-doubt, two-run blast to the seats in right-center field.
This night, though, belonged to Kluber.
He finished with 103 pitches, including 43 curves and 40 sinkers. The right-hander generated 12 swings and misses and got 29 called strikes (eight for strikeouts). Kluber's 90 Game Score is the highest to date this season in the Majors. Last year, only Chris Sale had a Game Score of at least 90 (on Aug. 8) in an outing lasting no more than eight innings.
Zimmer enjoyed watching Kluber's outing unfold from center field.
"It's electric," Zimmer said. "He's got some of the best stuff, if not the best stuff in the game. I think we're all happy to have him on our side. It's fun to play behind him. It's fun to see him do his thing and the action on his pitch -- because I'm right behind him and I can see every pitch location -- the action on his slider, it's pretty special."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Zimmer's barreled blast: With two out in the fifth, Zimmer sent a slider from Liriano out to right-center on a line for his game-changing home run. According to Statcast™, the blast had a 107 mph exit velocity with a 22 degree launch angle. Leading up to that homer, the Indians had gone 0-for-8 on Barrels on the homestand (parts of four games) in cold, windy conditions. For context, the MLB slugging percentage on Barrels was 2.363 this season, entering play on Monday.
"I knew I got that one," Zimmer said. "The weather has been a factor the last couple of days, so I was thankful to see it clear the fence and able to get us going there. That was a big momentum swing for us."
Machado turns two: Liriano hadn't allowed a baserunner until back-to-back walks with one out in the fourth, sputtering with command, as Jason Kipnis and Jose Ramirez reached base. Liriano's next pitch was over the middle of the plate, but Edwin Encarnacion hit a grounder at Dixon Machado, who stepped on second base and threw to first for a double play to end the threat.
"It sounds simple, but it's just a matter of not making mistakes at the wrong time. Physically, I don't feel any different. It's just a matter of not making those big mistakes with multiple guys on base or allowing big innings, things like that. That's obviously the case throughout the entire year, but if I had to point to one difference, that's probably the difference early on this year." -- Kluber, on his strong start to the season
"It's exciting. We've all seen that when he gets on a roll, he can maintain it for, sometimes, shoot, as long as you can play. And that's a really good feeling, because he'll be in here tomorrow working his tail off, doing his routine. That's why I think he's able to be so consistent." -- Indians manager Terry Francona, on Kluber's first three starts
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Kluber (40) ranks fifth among active players in double-digit strikeout games, trailing only Max Scherzer (66), Clayton Kershaw (58), Sale (53) and Justin Verlander (42). Only Sam McDowell (74) and Bob Feller (51) have more in franchise history.
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Tigers kept their deficit at two runs in the seventh inning with help from a challenge on what was initially ruled a double steal. Replays showed Zimmer slid into Machado's foot on his way to second base and he wasn't on the bag when Machado tagged him. Instead of runners at second and third with one out, the Indians had a runner on third with two out, a threat that ended when Drew VerHagen struck out Erik Gonzalez.
"I would've been safe," Zimmer said. "But, it was kind of an awkward slide, because the guy bumped into me and swiped my leg out. Regardless, there wasn't much I could do there."
Tigers reliever Buck Farmer left the game in the seventh inning with what the team called a left hip spasm after he seemingly took a misstep on the mound following through on a pitch. He's listed as day to day. More >
Right-hander Josh Tomlin is slated to start at 6:10 p.m. ET on Tuesday against the Tigers at Progressive Field. Tomlin battled a back issue in his season debut on April 3, allowing eight runs in three innings in Anaheim.
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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.