KANSAS CITY -- With an American League Central crown in their sights and a return trip to the World Series the goal, the last thing the Indians needed to see on Friday night was ace Corey Kluber limping off the field. It was a troubling scene, but one the club hopes was nothing more than a scare.
In the wake of the Tribe's 10-1 rout over the Royals, Kluber was in good spirits after sustaining a mild right ankle sprain in the sixth inning while running to cover first base. The Indians will closely monitor the right-hander over the next 48 hours, but he was optimistic that skipping a start would not be necessary.
"It's hard to say right now," Kluber said. "The next day or two, hopefully I'll get a lot of treatment in and hopefully it'll bounce back well."
Indians manager Terry Francona said the test will come when Kluber attempts to throw a bullpen session within the next few days. If he can throw off the mound with no issues, Kluber might be able to make his next scheduled start on Wednesday against the Red Sox. Otherwise, Francona said they could bump Kluber back a few days, if necessary.
"I don't think it's anything other than that," Francona said.
That would be a huge relief for a club that is already playing without Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall, and endured another scare on Thursday when Jose Ramirez (day to day) was hit on the right forearm with a pitch. The rotation has also endured plenty of bumps and bruises this season, including losing Kluber for most of May to a back problem.
Since returning from the disabled list on June 1, Kluber has arguably been the best starting pitcher in the Majors. In 15 starts during that time period, he has turned in a 1.84 ERA with 155 strikeouts against 18 walks in 107 2/3 innings, including his 5 1/3 frames against the Royals. Over that span, Kluber has led pitchers with a 18.9 swinging-strike percentage (min. 1,000 pitches) and 291 swinging strikes overall, according to Statcast™.
Kluber's run of 14 consecutive starts with at least eight strikeouts ended on Friday, but Hall-of-Famers Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez are the only other pitchers in history to have a streak of that kind.
"He's the horse of our staff. He takes control of everything," catcher Yan Gomes said. "What's awesome is that you never see the highs or lows from him. He stays even keel. That goes a long way with our whole pitching staff, even our whole team. Seeing one of our leaders stay even keel through all the ups and downs definitely helps everyone."
The play in question arrived with one out in the sixth, when Kluber hustled to cover first on an infield single by Eric Hosmer. Kluber rolled his ankle as he ran off the mound, but he then threw a few warmup pitches and remained in the game for one more batter. Melky Cabrera followed with a single, Kluber ran to back up third and Francona pulled the plug on the starter's outing.
"I was mad at myself, because I didn't take him out when I went out there the first time," Francona said. "I wasn't so worried about him moving around. I just thought that if he starts throwing and altering his mechanics, that didn't make sense to me. We went out there the very next guy. We should have gotten him out of there right away."