Kluber plays stopper, K's 12 to cap stellar May
Red-hot righty backed by four-run fifth to down Rockies in opener
CLEVELAND -- The crowd at Progressive Field roared a little lounder with each strikeout that Corey Kluber recorded against the Rockies on Friday night. When it came time for Kluber to head off the mound in the eighth inning, fans rose to their feet and offered the pitcher a rousing ovation.
Kluber kept his head down and disappeared into the dugout.
"I think I'm still kind of in that game mode at that point in time," Kluber said.
That is fitting for Kluber, a fireballer without flair.
For Cleveland's right-hander, each singular pitch is the priority, and the goal is to execute with precision. In the wake of another overpowering outing -- one that guided the Indians to a 5-2 win and ended the team's four-game losing streak -- Kluber refused to flinch at the mention of the historic May he just finished piecing together.
Kluber's name now resides alongside some of the all-time great arms in Cleveland's long and storied history. With his 12 strikeouts on Friday, Kluber joined Dennis Eckersley (1976), Bob Feller (eight times), Sam McDowell (eight times) and Herb Score (1956) as the only pitchers over the past 100 years to strike out at least 60 batters in a single calendar month.
With exactly 60 strikeouts in May, Kluber also joined Texas righty Yu Darvish (64 in August of last year) as the only pitchers in the Majors over the past 10 seasons to chalk up at least that many whiffs in one month. The last pitcher to have at least 60 strikeouts in May was Curt Schilling, who did so in the 2002 season with the D-backs.
For Kluber, the team win outweighed any individual record.
"I'm just trying to go out and pitch a good game and give our team a chance to win each time out," Kluber said.
Kluber's dry answers are by design. The pitcher goes to great lengths to steer praise in other directions. His most enthusiastic comments after Cleveland's Interleague victory over Colorado -- the National League's top offensive club -- were about the Tribe's lineup, which chased Rockies starter Juan Nicasio from the contest before the end of the fifth with a four-run outburst.
There is no denying Kluber's recent dominance, though, and all his quiet reaction to his stellar May did was leave it to others to brag about his performance.
"It's fun to write his name in every fifth day," Indians manager Terry Francona said with a smile. "He just continues to get better, and against that lineup. You see the numbers up on the board, but they're a very difficult team to strike out. They do a really good job of putting the ball in play and, just about everybody in the lineup, there's a bunch of crooked numbers up there.
"So, what he did was that much more impressive."
Asked what the view of Kluber's outing was like from center field, Cleveland's Michael Bourn cracked a grin.
"It looks kind of nasty," Bourn said. "He's getting a real feel for pitching. He's only getting better. It seems like he has that attitude of trying to get better. That's always a plus with somebody like him. He's come in and stopped the bleeding when we needed him to this year. He was able to do it again."
Over 7 1/3 innings, Kluber piled up a dozen strikeouts while limiting the Rockies to two runs on five hits with just one walk. It marked the third double-digit strikeout showing of the season for Kluber, who has recorded at least eight strikeouts in each of his past six starts (all in May). For the month, the righty went 4-0 with a 2.09 ERA with 60 strikeouts and eight walks in 43 innings.
On the season, Kluber is not 6-3 with a 3.04 ERA and an American League-high 95 strikeouts.
Kluber threw strikes at a 69-percent clip (74-for-107) against the Rockies, who ran into 19 of 22 outs via strikeout or ground ball.
"His stuff today was unbelievable," Colorado's Corey Dickerson said. "He was able to throw every pitch for a strike, or where he wanted it. He had the cutter, slider, curveball. The curveball was the best pitch, had a lot of bite to it."
Kluber's lone setback came in the fourth inning, when he allowed a leadoff double to Dickerson and later watched an ill-placed changeup rocket off the bat of Carlos Gonzalez and into the right-field stands for a two-run home run. That blast gave Colorado a 2-1 advantage, but the Indians responded with four runs off Nicasio in the fifth to take the lead for good.
Within that push, Bourn contributed an RBI single, Asdrubal Cabrera launched a two-run home run and Lonnie Chisenhall came through with an RBI double. Chisenhall also had an RBI single off Nicasio (five runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings) in the first inning to put the Tribe on the board. Michael Brantley doubled and scored in the fifth, setting a club record in the process with a 19-game hitting streak at Progressive Field.
"We had a lot of big hits tonight in timely situations," Kluber said. "Lonnie had a couple of nice two-out RBIs. Those are always big. Cabby put a good charge on a ball, too. It's nice to get those big, timely hits when you need them."
More importantly for the Indians, Kluber continued on his recent tear.
The Indians already felt they found their stopper in Kluber. Two months into this season, Cleveland is starting to believe that it might also have a new ace.
"Power, movement, command," Francona said. "He was good."