GLENDALE, Ariz. – Brown weathering steel is the signature architectural material at Camelback Ranch, where Rangers right-hander Corey Kluber arrived Sunday ready to shed some rust of his own.
Injuries curtailed his 2019 season long before the Rangers wrested Kluber from the Indians in a December trade. Until Sunday, his first outing in a Texas uniform, he hadn’t faced Major League opponents in front of a crowd since exactly 10 months prior, when a line drive broke his right forearm on May 1 in Miami. His bid to return from that injury was scuttled when he strained his left oblique muscle during a Minor League rehab start in August.
“It was encouraging to get out there and feel good against another team,” Kluber said Sunday after he allowed two earned runs in three innings against the Dodgers, striking out four of the 14 batters he faced in the Rangers' 8-6 win.
Kluber walked two and allowed two hits. Enrique Hernández’s solo homer in the third inning, on an inside fastball, was the only ball the Dodgers really barreled. The other hit was a weakly struck infield single on the game’s first pitch.
“The way I judge a Spring Training start is how well I’m able to execute pitches, get the ball where I want it to, avoid hard contact -- which I think I did pretty well for the most part today, aside from the home run,” Kluber said.
After allowing the leadoff single, Kluber walked the next two hitters to load the bases, but he struck out Hernández and recorded a pair of groundouts to limit the damage to one run. He hit the first batter of the second frame before striking out the side, and he induced two more groundouts in the third before the homer and another groundout.
Kluber used his full repertoire of pitches Sunday, preferring not to focus on specifics as some pitchers do in Spring Training starts.
“I don’t like to go out there and say I’m only going to throw this pitch or this pitch today,” Kluber said. “The way I approach it is if I’m going to get out there in a game, I’m going to treat it like it’s a game. From a competitive standpoint, trying to get used to that part of it, work with all my pitches, try to treat situations like they would be normally so they’re not foreign when you get to the regular season.”
Catcher Jeff Mathis gave manager Chris Woodward a positive in-game scouting report on Kluber.
“I was talking to Math and he was like, 'balls were moving all over the place -- back-door sinker, front-door sinker, front-door cutter,'” Woodward said. “Balls were moving all over the place and he was commanding it. That second inning, you could see him executing his pitches, getting ahead with his breaking balls. … he’s using both sides of the plate, up, down, with movement, going both ways. It’s a pretty unique mix -- not too many guys can do both sides of the plate with all pitches. It’s a pretty rare quality.”
A two-time Cy Young Award winner and a 20-game winner in 2018, Kluber counts as one of the most accomplished additions to the rotation in Rangers history. Expectations are high, even though he was limited to just 35 2/3 Major League innings over seven starts for Cleveland last year. But Sunday’s goals were simpler: three innings, 50-plus pitches and some semblance of feel for the game.
“I threw myself right in the fire -- bases loaded, nobody out -- today,” Kluber said. “But it’s good to get those situations where you’ve got to work through runners on, things like that. I’m just trying to experience a lot of different stuff in Spring Training, is kind of how I gauge it.”
The 33-year-old, who was a star at Coppell High School about 25 miles from Globe Life Field, said he’s in typical spring mode now and will progress deeper into his next few starts as usual. He departed Glendale with less rust than he brought with him.
“Once you get out there and start doing it, it feels pretty normal,” Kluber said. “I wouldn’t say it feels too different. Anytime somebody misses a lot of time with an injury, there’s probably more of an appreciation for getting out there.”