KANSAS CITY -- Corey Kluber knew that comparisons to last season would be inevitable no matter the circumstances this year. What the leader of the Indians' rotation could not have foreseen was the frustrating start that has created a heightened level of concern around Cleveland.
Last summer's breakout star and American League Cy Young Award winner has yet to win a game.
"I'm not really trying to compare this year to last year," Kluber said.
That has not stopped everyone else from doing so, and Thursday's 7-4 loss to the Royals at Kauffman Stadium did little to ease the worries found within the Tribe's fan base. Through seven starts, Kluber has gone 0-5 and the Indians have lost each of the games he has pitched. That is rarified air for a reigning Cy Young recipient.
According to STATS, Kluber has joined Frank Viola (1989 with the Twins) and Zack Greinke (2010 with the Royals) as the only Cy Young winners to go without a win through the first seven starts of their follow-up campaign. No Cy Young Award winner has gone eight starts into their next season without collecting at least one victory.
Faith in Kluber has not wavered inside Cleveland's clubhouse.
"He's had a lot of tough luck," Indians closer Cody Allen said. "He's not the only one trying to find it right now. I know I am. It's tough, because he's a guy we lean on and we're looking to for big things, and he's a guy that's very capable, his next start, going out there and throwing eight shutout innings and rolling for the rest of the year. We saw it last year.
"He just had a couple starts when he got into his groove and you never saw him scuffle. He's a guy that's very resilient. He's going to be the same guy. He's going to work hard. He's going to stick to his routine that's always worked for him. We know it. We just want to play good baseball behind him and come in behind him and pitch well and get him a win."
Kluber did not storm out of the gates last season, either. At the end of April a year ago, the right-hander had a 2-3 record and a 4.14 ERA through six outings. Then, Kluber stepped on the gas, spinning a 2.13 ERA and racking up 16 wins the rest of the way en route to a surprising run to the Cy Young trophy.
Through seven outings this year, Kluber has a 5.04 ERA in 44 2/3 innings. The bulk of the damage has come within his last four starts, which have included a .373/.423/.559 opponents' slash line, a 7.43 ERA and a 1.96 WHIP in 23 innings. In his latest effort against Kansas City, Kluber logged 5 2/3 innings and gave up five runs on seven hits, ending with seven strikeouts and two walks.
"I thought it was a step in the right direction," Kluber said, "as far as keeping guys off-balance and mixing in and out better, and not just kind of sticking to the same spot over and over again. Aside from those first four batters, I thought it was better. Obviously, it's still not exactly where we want to be, but it's a step in the right direction."
Those first four batters churned out four runs in the first inning.
Kluber hit Alex Gordon with a pitch to open the frame and then watched right fielder Brandon Moss bobble a single by Mike Moustakas, resulting in an error that led to the Royals' first run. Next came a base hit from Lorenzo Cain and a 2-0 mistake to Eric Hosmer, who deposited the pitch over the wall in center field for a rocket of a three-run home run.
Kluber held Kansas City to four hits the rest of the way, but that four-run strike was sufficient in sending the Indians on their way to the loss.
"In the first inning, he worked from behind in the count and he paid for it," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "To his credit, man, he battled his [rear] off and he started working ahead a lot more. And when he worked ahead, he was very good.
"I think we all know that he's our guy," he added. "If we want to get where we're going, he'll be a huge part of it. Whatever your record is, though, you have to live with that. That's part of the game."