Kluber on joining Rangers: 'A lot of excitement'

December 17th, 2019

ARLINGTON -- New Rangers pitcher said he is ahead of his regular offseason schedule.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner normally starts his winter throwing program sometime in December, but this offseason, Kluber started picking up the baseball again at the beginning of November.

His eagerness is understandable.

Kluber missed most of last season with the Indians initially because of a fractured right forearm and then an oblique muscle strain. The hope is that is all behind him, especially after the Rangers acquired him for outfielder and pitcher .

“I had so much time off in the summer,” Kluber said Tuesday. “Having been doing what I felt was really good work coming back in my rehab process, I didn’t want to just shut down and forget about it. I just wanted to keep that positive work reinforced. I felt I was in a really good spot. Hopefully, I can hit the ground running in Spring Training.”

Kluber’s health was a prime topic of conversation Tuesday, when he spoke by phone with the Texas media for the first time since the trade was announced on Sunday. Reviewing Kluber’s many accomplishments when healthy would only be stating the obvious.

He won two American League Cy Young Awards and was a three-time All-Star for the Indians from 2014-18. During that stretch, he led the AL with 83 wins and an 2.85 ERA.

“If he is anywhere near what he used to be, he is absolutely an ace,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “Everything I’ve heard and talking to him, seeing how he has responded to last year, we’re not too concerned about what happened. That’s healed up. His lower body stuff, he works his tail off. His work ethic is kind of legendary, so we are fully believing he can get back to somewhat of what he used to be.”

The arm injury took place against the Marlins on May 1 at Miami. With two outs in the fifth inning, Marlins third baseman Brian Anderson smashed a line drive up the middle, hitting Kluber in the right forearm. The exit velocity was measured at 102.2 mph. Kluber was diagnosed with a fractured ulna bone.

Kluber tried to come back and rejoin the Indians drive for the AL Central title. He made three rehab starts in the Minors, the last with Triple-A Columbus on Aug. 18, before being shut down because of the oblique strain.

“The incident was unfortunate last season for me personally,” Kluber said. “Working my way back and feeling I was on the edge of being back and having another setback -- it was a trying season mentally.”

Still, in a bizarre way, the injury is being termed as a blessing in disguise. Kluber carried a heavy workload from 2014-18, and there were definite signs he was wearing down before being hit by the line drive.

Besides the 83 wins, Kluber also led the AL with 1,091 innings pitched from 2014-18. Only Justin Verlander threw more pitches. That doesn’t include another 45 1/3 innings over nine postseason starts from 2016-18.

When Kluber went down after seven starts this past season, he was 2-3 with a 5.80 ERA. Opponents were hitting .297 off him, 65 points higher than his .232 career opponents’ batting average. His fastball averaged 91.6 mph. That was down from 92.7 when he won his second Cy Young Award in 2017.

That’s why the Rangers are hoping his reduced workload last summer will benefit Kluber in the future.

“Looking back, the way I feel now, I guess I buy into that -- it was not the worst thing in the world for me,” Kluber said. “As far as the future, instead of starting off this offseason trying to recover, I think I have the opportunity to hit the ground running. It’s a cliché but I really feel good physically and [I’m] excited where I am at right now.”

Kluber’s injuries are all that can temper the enthusiasm over the Rangers’ latest acquisition. But then, if Kluber had been healthy all last season, he would either still be in Cleveland or have commanded a much higher return in a trade, possibly one the Rangers couldn’t have offered.

“It is a really good holiday gift,” shortstop said. “We were waiting for that.”

Kluber joins a rotation that includes left-hander and right-hander . Both were in the top eight in AL Cy Young voting this past season. Minor was a 14-game winner and an All-Star; Lynn won 16 and struck out 246 batters. Both have legitimate No. 1 potential.

Kluber comes to Texas having been an ace with the Indians. That’s why expectations are so high for a pitcher who played at Coppell High School, just north of Arlington.

“There is a lot of excitement on my end, too,” Kluber said. “The team itself creates excitement, the new ballpark creates excitement, the fact that I grew up there is exciting in a sense too. The expectations are what they are, but I don’t think anybody is going to set higher expectations for myself than I have.”