Moved to 'pen, Kluber plans to reclaim form

Veteran RHP (2-6, 6.26 ERA) struggling, will pitch in relief for first time since 2013

May 25th, 2023

ANAHEIM -- The Red Sox have solved the overflow in their starting rotation by moving veteran righty Corey Kluber to the bullpen, manager Alex Cora announced on Wednesday.

The news comes on the heels of Nick Pivetta being moved to the bullpen last week to open a slot for James Paxton.

With Garrett Whitlock set to return from the injured list on Saturday, another move needed to be made -- hence the decision to move the struggling Kluber (2-6, 6.26 ERA) to the ‘pen.

Exemplifying the way he has handled himself for his entire career, the 37-year-old Kluber took the news in a professional manner.

"There's no denying the body of work at this point in time hasn’t been to the standard that I expect out of myself,” said Kluber. “Obviously, I’m sure [not] what the team expects out of me either. I think however many starts it goes that way, whether it’s one start or more, there's a different level of disappointment each time you don't live up to the standard you’re trying to set yourself for."

Kluber will be available as a reliever on Friday in Arizona.

“There's no sense in dwelling on it or feeling sorry for myself,” Kluber said. “I’m going to try to improve and fix things and try to come in with a good attitude and try to get better every day, that’s what I’ve been doing and will continue to do.”

Tanner Houck turned in one of the best starts of his career (six innings, three hits, one run, eight strikeouts) on Monday night against the Angels, leaving Kluber, a two-time AL Cy Young Award winner, as the odd man out. Cora had said after Kluber’s latest rough outing on Sunday in San Diego that he would make another start on Sunday.

Things changed.

“I mean, obviously, Tanner is throwing the ball well,” said Cora. “We have the off-days and all that, and I was talking to [Kluber], and he knows those guys deserve to start. We’re going to keep working with him and try to get him better. For now, this is the route we're going.”

When the Red Sox signed Kluber to a one-year, $10-million deal in the offseason, the idea was that he would be a dependable piece of the rotation who could keep them in games. Instead, Kluber’s command has betrayed him.

“It’s a change in role. But at the end of the day, pitching is still the same,” said Kluber. “So I’ve got to continue working on finding ways to improve and ways to get better.”

As the Red Sox were waiting for other pitchers in their rotation to get healthy, Kluber was the club’s Opening Day starter. His problems started that day, as he gave up five runs and four walks in 3 1/3 innings against the Orioles.

Boston’s rotation will now feature two lefties who have returned to form after years of battling injuries in Chris Sale and Paxton, and also the young and promising trio of Brayan Bello, Houck and Whitlock.

“We had that conversation with Corey and [he's] very professional. He understands,” said Cora. “He signed here to be a starter, but right now he's struggling, and you know, obviously the kids are throwing the ball well. There's a lot of off-days coming up. So we decided to make the change.

The Sox hope they can get Kluber right in a role that is unfamiliar to him. Kluber has made five regular-season bullpen appearances in his career, but none since 2013. Kluber pitched once in relief in the postseason in a game against the Guardians last October.

“I'll have conversations with guys like Tanner and Garrett, who have bounced back and forth a little bit,” said Kluber. “I’ve had former teammates who have done the same thing, and I’ll talk to them and pick their brains about it and have conversations with the training staff about how to best prepare myself for it. I’m not trying to make it a daunting thing. I think at the end of the day, when the adrenaline hits as you're trying to pitch, I feel like as long as I prepare myself for it, I’ll be OK.”

“Well, we've been doing it for the last two or three years having starters in the bullpen, and some guys we use more aggressively,” said Cora. “Others we’ve got to be patient, and the case with Corey, I think he came out of the bullpen last year in the playoffs, but he hasn't done it throughout his career.

“We’ve just got to make sure we give him enough time to be ready and see when we are going to use him. Obviously, we want him to get back on track, and back on track is throwing strikes, and this is something that he's done throughout his career. He hasn't done it the first month and a half [this] season. The stuff is ... very similar to last year, but obviously the control and the command wasn't there and we just got to make sure we keep making adjustments.”

The Red Sox are currently 26th in the Majors in starters ERA (5.36) but the group has trended upward in recent weeks.

With the current five-man group, the Sox (26-23) are hoping to turn the rotation from a weakness to a strength.

Boston’s bullpen now has four pitchers who are comfortable going multi-innings in Kluber, Pivetta, Josh Winckowski and Kutter Crawford.

“It’s a different bullpen, but it’s a bullpen we believe in,” said Cora. “It’s a bullpen that is going to give guys rest, and it’s a bullpen that has good stuff. We’re going to keep using them the way we’ve been using them.”