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Kluber's stellar month replete with punchouts

MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- Corey Kluber paid little mind to Rougned Odor, as the Rangers' second baseman sprinted to third base for an uncontested steal in the second inning. In that moment on Thursday afternoon, the Indians' ace was focused solely on slugger Mike Napoli.

Napoli worked the count full, but then was sent back to the dugout, one of a dozen downed by strikeout in Cleveland's 5-1 victory. Kluber fired a cutter -- a pitch that looks like his curve out of the hand, but slices through the zone at a more rapid rate -- and Napoli flailed for strike three. He then flipped away his bat and spiked his helmet into the dirt in disgust.

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CLEVELAND -- Corey Kluber paid little mind to Rougned Odor, as the Rangers' second baseman sprinted to third base for an uncontested steal in the second inning. In that moment on Thursday afternoon, the Indians' ace was focused solely on slugger Mike Napoli.

Napoli worked the count full, but then was sent back to the dugout, one of a dozen downed by strikeout in Cleveland's 5-1 victory. Kluber fired a cutter -- a pitch that looks like his curve out of the hand, but slices through the zone at a more rapid rate -- and Napoli flailed for strike three. He then flipped away his bat and spiked his helmet into the dirt in disgust.

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Video: TEX@CLE: Kluber discusses approach in Tribe's 5-1 win

"Strikeouts are a product of making good pitches," said Kluber, downplaying his knack for swings and misses. "I don't think that strikeouts necessarily are the only way to show that you had a good day."

Kluber has a point, but he has been an artist when it comes to strikeouts over the past month.

Against the Rangers, Kluber turned in eight brilliant innings, striking out 12, allowing one run and issuing only one walk in his latest masterpiece. It gave him four consecutive games with 10-or-more punchouts (a club-record streak within one season) and 64 strikeouts for June. Across his six starts this month, Kluber has turned in a tidy 1.26 ERA with a .150 opponents' average and .204 opponents' slugging percentage.

Video: TEX@CLE: Kluber records his 10th K of the game

In this win, Kluber generated 21 swings and misses, marking the third time this season he has finished an outing with at least 20 such strikes. For the month, Kluber created 111 swings and misses, accounting for 18.3 percent of his total pitches thrown. That mark leads the Majors among pitchers with at least 400 pitches in June, per Statcast™. Overall, Kluber has a 43.1 percent strikeout rate in June.

"It's pretty impressive. It really is," Indians center fielder Bradley Zimmer said. "I've got the best view in the house. I can see location and everything. It's pretty impressive. His slider just disappears, it seems like."

Zimmer was referring to Kluber's primary breaking ball, which the pitcher calls a curve, but has downward action similar to a slider. That pitch -- one of baseball's top weapons -- has played a big role in June, given that Kluber has leaned more on it than at any other point in his career. Against Texas, though, Kluber switched things up. He went with a more even distribution of pitches to keep the Rangers guessing.

When Kluber's day was done, he had thrown 29 two-seamers, 10 changeups and featured his four-seamer, cutter and curve 24 times each.

Video: TEX@CLE: Francona on Kluber's dominant start

"It's just kind of paying attention to the way their at-bats were going," Kluber said, "and kind of adjusting throughout the game. I think every game you have to have a plan going into it, but you also have to be willing to adjust that plan if you know the hitters are reacting a little bit differently than maybe you originally thought they would."

Making Kluber's June more impressive is the fact that he missed a month on the disabled list. The results since the time on the DL have more than supported the team's approach to the situation.

"Being the competitor that he is, it took him a while to kind of buy into that," said Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations. "But I think we've now seen the benefit of giving him that time, and that he's come back and pitched like he's capable of pitching, which is to be among the best starting pitchers in all of baseball."

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.

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