CLEVELAND -- Corey Kluber took the mound on June 9 for his second start since missing a month on the disabled list with lower back tightness. He had a lot on his back, figuratively and literally.The Indians' rotation had the highest collective ERA in the league at the time, and
CLEVELAND -- Corey Kluber took the mound on June 9 for his second start since missing a month on the disabled list with lower back tightness. He had a lot on his back, figuratively and literally.
The Indians' rotation had the highest collective ERA in the league at the time, and the World Series hangover seemed to be in effect. No group feels such a lingering effect more than starting pitchers, who have less time to recover from bigger workloads than they've faced before.
"There was no reason they wouldn't bounce back," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "But we tried to shorten up their Spring Training, the workload in Spring Training, and because of that, we might have got off to a slow start."
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The Indians, while not exactly in panic mode, were just over .500 and looking up at the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central standings.
Kluber, who delivered six scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts in his return against Oakland on June 1, came back with six quality innings and eight strikeouts against the White Sox eight days later. He allowed just five more earned runs over his next six starts before the All-Star break, and he allowed more than three runs in a start only once the rest of the season.
In many ways, Kluber was the antidote to the hangover. From June 10 on, the Indians posted MLB bests with a 2.81 ERA (a half-run better than the Dodgers), 709 strikeouts (79 more than the Nationals), 622 innings pitched, a .661 opposing OPS and 58 wins (13 more than the Dodgers).
"I guess, to make it as simple as I can, it boiled down to us doing what we do best," Kluber said, "more so going out there and executing our game plan as opposed to trying to adjust or pitch to the hitters. I think, in a way, we were almost just doing it backwards at the beginning."
The Indians came into this American League Division Series presented by Doosan with a stronger, healthier rotation than they had last year. The health of Carlos Carrasco plays a role there, but so does the dominance of Kluber, who comes in pitching not only his best ball but some of his freshest. Kluber will get the start on Friday in Game 2 against veteran southpaw Carsten Sabathia.
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"You rarely see him tired out there," Francona said. "I mean, he conditions himself so well that sometimes just the score of the game dictates coming out, because he never really looks like he's tired."
That resonates with the rest of the staff.
"Our pitchers had a hard time kind of finding their footing early on, but once they did, none of our pitchers look like their gas tank is pointing towards empty," Francona said. "And that's in large part because of their work ethic -- and I mean the entire group."
Kluber went 16-7 with a 1.62 ERA and a .495 OPS allowed after he returned from the DL. Two of those wins were at the expense of the Yankees, who were held to three runs on six hits over 17 combined innings, with two walks and 18 strikeouts.
Neither of those wins, however, included Aaron Judge in the Yanks' lineup. Judge has never faced Kluber. The only three current New York players to homer off Kluber are Brett Gardner, Chase Headley and Gary Sanchez, who are a combined 7-for-42 against him.
"There's a lot of different ways that they can score runs," Kluber said. "I don't think you can necessarily sit here and say we're going to get them out by doing this. I think that it comes down to us executing pitches and executing our game plan, and if we don't, they have a very good lineup that probably will make us pay."
Jason Beck has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.