CLEVELAND -- If there was ever one inning that could serve as a summation of Indians ace Corey Kluber, it would be the fifth inning on Saturday. In a span of five pitches -- all fastballs -- Kluber set down three Angels hitters in order.
Groundout. Groundout. Strikeout.
"Corey Kluber, man," Indians catcher Roberto Perez said after the Tribe's 3-0 victory over the Angels. "He was on tonight."
Facing an Angels lineup that scrapped its usual patient approach in favor of a more aggressive attack, Kluber carved his way through nine innings for the seventh shutout of his career. The right-hander adapted to the early-count swings, opting to tease contact rather than build up to strikeouts, and the result was a Maddux.
This marked only the second time in Kluber's career that his shutout fit that description -- completed with fewer than 100 pitches -- with the last being an 85-pitch gem against the Mariners on July 30, 2014. Against the Angels, Kluber finished with 98 pitches, scattered three hits and improved to 14-6 with a 2.63 ERA on the year.
The American League Central-leading Indians (60-49) are accustomed to these types of performances from Kluber, but this outing was particularly encouraging. It marks the second strong start in a row for the two-time AL Cy Young Award winner, who was dealing with a right knee issue and mechanical woes prior to the All-Star break.
"It's wonderful," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It seemed like he was in command the entire night. And early, we weren't doing anything offensively, so it wasn't like he had a cushion to pitch with."
For the first five innings on Saturday, the Indians' lineup couldn't get anything going against Angels starter Felix Pena. The righty was firing nearly as many balls as strikes, but the approach was proving to be effectively wild. Cleveland went 0-for-14 through the first five innings against Pena.
"We just couldn't get a bead on him," Francona said. "His stuff is good, but we didn't make him pay when he didn't throw strikes."
That came to an end in the sixth, when Pena threw a 3-1 two-seamer low in the zone to Leonys Martin. The new Indians center fielder -- acquired from the Tigers prior to Tuesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline -- crushed the pitch to right field for his 11th shot of the season. Michael Brantley added an RBI single later in the frame and the Tribe tacked on a third run in the seventh.
That was sufficient support for Kluber, who struck out seven and walked one in the win.
Perez noted that the Angels are one of the more patient teams in baseball this year, but used a different style on Saturday night. Los Angeles entered the game averaging 3.92 pitches per plate appearance, but that dropped to 3.06 against Kluber. With some more swings earlier in at-bats, Kluber and his catcher tweaked their game plan.
"When you know a team's game plan is to be aggressive," Kluber said, "if anything, you can maybe start off the count a little bit more on the corners. … Instead of trying so much to get ahead, you're more so trying to execute a pitch and if they are going to be aggressive, miss in the right spot."
That was on full display in Kluber's swift fifth inning.
Prior to that frame, Perez discussed the Angels' approach with Kluber and pitching coach Carl Willis. Then, Kluber used a four-seamer to create a first-pitch groundout from Kaleb Cowart. Next came a two-seamer, which Eric Young pounded through the infield grass for another groundout.
Kluber finished off that sequence with three elevated heaters. Kole Calhoun watched the first two and swung through the third. It was vintage Kluber.
"He's back to normal," Perez said with a smile.
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Welcome to Cleveland: Over the past two games, Martin has done his part in winning over any remaining skeptics about the trade that brought him to the Indians from Detroit. The center fielder went 98 at-bats without a homer leading up to his ninth-inning shot on Friday night. Then, Martin went deep again on Saturday to end Pena's no-hit bid and ignite an offensive rally that gave Kluber the support he needed.
"I'm really happy, man. I came here to help," Martin said. "And I want to do my best to help this team to get where we want. We've got a long way to go still. … I don't think about homers. They just happen. I try to hit the ball hard and do my game. I try to get on base and create situations."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Kluber fired an inside sinker in the sixth to Justin Upton, who flared the pitch over the mound for what had the makings of a bloop infield single. Shortstop Francisco Lindor charged in front of second base, plucking the baseball from the air with his bare hand after one bounce. In one smooth motion while on the run, Lindor then fired the ball to first to nab Upton, eliciting a collective roar from the Cleveland crowd.
"That was an unbelievable play," Francona said. "I was watching [second baseman Jason Kipnis], because I thought he was the only one who had a chance. And it took a funny hop on [Lindor]. That was a great play."
Lindor said he was trying to get to the ball fast enough to make the catch, but the shortstop had to improvise on the run.
"That was very important," Lindor said. "I think that changed the momentum. … I was [trying to make the catch with] two hands and go quick. It just took that hop to the right and I barehanded it."
Entering Saturday's game, Jose Pujols had at least 15 plate appearances against 248 pitchers in his career. Kluber was the only one in that group to never relinquish a hit against the future Hall of Famer. After a popout and groundout in his first two trips to the plate, Pujols ended his 0-for-18 drought against Kluber with a two-out single in the sixth.
HE SAID IT
"It's awesome. We all knew he was a good player before he got here. He's fit in really well. Our clubhouse kinda lends to that. Guys seem to be able to come in and adjust pretty quickly. Obviously, the quicker start a guy can get off to with a new team, it just gives him that much more confidence." -- Kluber, on Martin
"I used to hate that guy. I use to hate him. He's pretty good. He's really good. He's one of the best in the game. He made that play look so easy." -- Martin, on Lindor's defensive gem
Rookie right-hander Shane Bieber (5-2, 4.73 ERA) is scheduled to start for the Tribe on Sunday, when the Indians host the Angels at 1:10 p.m. ET at Progressive Field. In his last outing, Bieber yielded three earned runs in 6 1/3 innings on the road against the Twins. Los Angeles will start William McGuire (0-1, 6.12 ERA) in place of the injured Tyler Skaggs.