No surprise: Kluber tabbed for Tribe's opener

Francona confirms ace is set to start against Red Sox

March 5th, 2016

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians manager Terry Francona never felt the need to explicitly inform Corey Kluber that he would be the Opening Day starter this year. Once a pitcher reaches Kluber's level, that is not necessarily a conversation that is required in the formal sense.

On Saturday morning, Francona confirmed that Kluber is indeed penciled in to start Cleveland's season-opener against the Red Sox on April 4 at Progressive Field. Only an unforeseen development in camp would deter Kluber from making his second consecutive Opening Day start for the Tribe.

"As long as everything goes according to plan and nothing happens, yeah," Francona said. "He knows that. I told him in the first meeting to get ready for Opening Day, so I'm assuming he kind of figured that."

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In his first Cactus League outing of the spring on Saturday, Kluber handled a split-squad Giants lineup with ease, retiring all six batters he faced before logging another inning's worth of pitches in the bullpen. The right-hander struck out three and generated three ground-ball outs in the brief appearance, in which his focus was getting ahead in the count and pounding the strike zone.

Kluber is not using spring games to simply get in his work. He wants outs.

"I don't want to come out in games and feel like I'm working on something," Kluber said. "When I get in a game, I want to try to go out there and compete and get guys out. To me, the bullpen, if you get into a 'B' game or that sort of thing, that's kind of the time to work on things, for me. When I get out there and I'm facing hitters in a game, I'm trying to get them out and get in that competitive mindframe."

Kluber smiled when told that Francona indicated that the pitcher would start on Opening Day.

"That's the first I've heard of it," Kluber said. "That'll be fun, if that's the case. Last year was my first one. I've said it a few times, all the stuff leading up to it is really cool. All the pregame festivities, all that kind of stuff, that's all the neat stuff of Opening Day. But, once a hitter gets in there and you throw that first pitch, it just kind of turns into another one of 162."

Come April 4, Kluber will likely lock horns with left-handed ace David Price, who signed with Boston over the offseason.

It will be the first Opening Day nod at home for Kluber, who won the American League Cy Young Award with a breakout showing in 2014. That season, the right-hander went 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA and 269 strikeouts in 235 2/3 innings for Cleveland. Statistically, Kluber was strong again in '15, but he posted a 9-16 record that marred an otherwise solid showing.

Last year, Kluber turned in a 3.49 ERA with 245 strikeouts, 45 walks and four complete games in 222 innings in 32 starts. One issue working against Kluber in terms of his record was run support by the Indians' offense. Cleveland scored two or fewer runs in 21 of his 32 starts and had a 3.32 run-support average for Kluber on the year.

"He's pretty good," Francona said. "If he pitched the same identical way this year as he did last year, I'd be willing to bet his won-loss record would be a lot different."

In the plans to follow the right-hander in the starting staff are Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer. The fifth spot is up for grabs, with right-handers Josh Tomlin and Cody Anderson serving as the main candidates this spring.

Francona said there is some comfort in having a pitcher like Kluber leading the way.

"Now, he knows himself. He knows the league," Francona said. "It's a good guy to be able to kind of build your staff around."