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Kluber took role of leader in Cy Young season

MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- Shortly after the Indians traded Justin Masterson to the Cardinals in July,Corey Kluber was instructed to head into manager Terry Francona's office in Cleveland. Inside, Kluber was also joined by pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash.

Kluber quickly learned that the meeting was not as cryptic as it may have seemed upon reaching the doorway. Francona and the coaches wanted to detail some new expectations for Kluber for the final two months of the season. The task for Kluber was to assume the role of rotation leader, guiding a young pitching staff that was integral for a postseason push.

CLEVELAND -- Shortly after the Indians traded Justin Masterson to the Cardinals in July,Corey Kluber was instructed to head into manager Terry Francona's office in Cleveland. Inside, Kluber was also joined by pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash.

Kluber quickly learned that the meeting was not as cryptic as it may have seemed upon reaching the doorway. Francona and the coaches wanted to detail some new expectations for Kluber for the final two months of the season. The task for Kluber was to assume the role of rotation leader, guiding a young pitching staff that was integral for a postseason push.

"That was obviously something that you want to embrace," Kluber said, "the fact that the organization has the faith in you to tell you that and to hope for that from me. At the same time, it was also tough for me, because Masty was a guy that I always went to. He was the guy that everybody went to. There wasn't really a transition period."

Masterson was dealt to St. Louis in the afternoon on July 30. That night, Kluber was charged with taking the mound against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez. The new leader of Cleveland's rotation responded with a shutout, out-dueling King Felix in a 2-0 victory that began an incredible 12-start stretch that culminated in a brilliant campaign for Kluber.

Video: SEA@CLE: Kluber retires Ackley to complete shutout

On Wednesday, Kluber edged Hernandez out once again, capturing the 2014 American League Cy Young Award in voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. On that evening in late July, Kluber was two runs better than Hernandez. This time around, the Indians' right-hander was 10 points better in the extremely-close Cy Young balloting.

"I wasn't expecting it," Kluber said.

The Indians may not have anticipated a Cy Young-winning season for Kluber, who went 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA and 269 strikeouts in 34 starts, but the club was expecting the pitcher to lead the way down the stretch. Kluber proved he was up to the challenge, going 8-3 with a 1.88 ERA, 107 strikeouts and 18 walks in the 12 starts after Masterson (Cleveland's Opening Day starter) was traded.

In that first outing opposite Hernandez, Callaway was blown away by Kluber's determination and poise.

"He kind of showed everybody, 'Hey, I'm the leader now and this is the way we do things," Callaway said. "I think he put that in the back of his mind and went out there and said, 'I'm the guy now and I'm going to dominate.'"

The Indians' young starting staff -- which mostly included Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer and T.J. House down the stretch -- followed Kluber's lead. In the second half, the rotation posted an AL-leading 2.95 ERA and was the driving force behind keeping Cleveland in contention until the final weekend of the regular season.

"He put it on himself to lead the staff," catcher Yan Gomes said. "He did it by example and I know a lot of guys followed him."

Adjusting to leading a staff did not come without challenges for Kluber.

"It was a bit of a new role for me," Kluber said. "I had never really been in that position before. There's times along the way where I had to go ask [Francona] or Mickey like, 'What do I do in that situation?' They were always great. They were open about everything and looking to help any way they could."

Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said Kluber's consistency helped him navigate his way through the heightened responsibilities.

"He's always been a guy that's set an incredible example," Antonetti said. "Corey didn't flip a switch when Masty was traded, but I think what was more evident is that guys had now one guy to look to and not only see his work habits, but see those work habits translate to incredible success on the field."

Kluber more than lived up to the expectations established during the meeting in the manager's office.

"We added this extra layer of difficulty to his season," Callaway said. "Not only was he working at helping our team win, [there was] the pressure of battling for a Cy Young and then taking over as leader of the staff. I really feel that that's one of the reasons our staff pitched so well in the second half -- because everybody was looking to Kluber now."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.

Cleveland Indians, Corey Kluber