SEATTLE -- The Indians got another good outing from their rejuvenated Cy Young Award winner and the Mariners were left with concerns about their emerging young starter in a 5-3 Cleveland win that opened a four-game series at Safeco Field on Thursday night.
Tribe right-hander Corey Kluber entered the evening leading the American League in strikeouts with 83 and trailing only Washington's Max Scherzer (85) for the Major League's most so far this season, but Kluber blew past Scherzer with 13 punchouts. He struck out the side in the fifth inning, punched out two more in the sixth, and struck out the side again in his seventh and final inning.
"He works so hard. He doesn't run out of gas," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "His last pitch was probably his best fastball of the night. He's kind of built himself so he can go out and do what he needs to do for as long as he needs to."
Cleveland got a solo homer from Brandon Moss in the second inning, scratched out three runs in the fourth inning with the help of an error by Mariners shortstop Chris Taylor, and added an insurance run in the sixth on a Jason Kipnis fielder's choice RBI.
The Mariners got a couple of homers -- a solo shot from Mike Zunino in the third and a two-run blast by Dustin Ackley in the sixth -- but they also got a scare. Starter James Paxton, who had been emerging as a left-handed force in May, exited the game with two outs in the fifth inning with discomfort in the middle finger of his left hand. He was slated to be re-evaluated on Friday.
"Obviously I'm not happy about it, but I'm staying positive and I don't think it's going to be anything too big, hopefully," Paxton said after the game. "We'll find out tomorrow. Right now it has pretty good movement and it already feels better than it did an hour ago. Hopefully by tomorrow it'll feel much better."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Moss bomb: Moss, who started at first base rather than in the outfield Thursday, put the Indians on the board in the second inning when he drilled an 0-1 offering from Paxton to center field for a one-out solo homer. The blast was Moss' team-leading eighth of the season, but marked only his second shot off a left-handed pitcher this year.
"He throws 97 and the pitch I hit was 91," Moss said. "It looked like the fastball he had thrown me the previous pitch, but honestly, it didn't do anything. I don't know if maybe he was trying to throw a cutter and it didn't move or whatever, but it definitely wasn't 97."
Clutch K: Working with a three-run lead in the fifth inning, Kluber allowed back-to-back, one-out singles to Zunino and Austin Jackson. The Tribe's ace struck out Seth Smith, setting up a battle with slugger Nelson Cruz. Kluber's sixth pitch of the confrontation was an 87-mph curve that tailed out of the zone, eluding Cruz's swing for a critical inning-ending strikeout.
"Obviously, he's the tying run," Kluber said. "He's got the ability to hit it out of the park in every at-bat. I was just trying to make good pitches to him and executed them."
Costly miscue: The Indians loaded the bases in the fourth inning with one out, but the Mariners had a good chance to minimize the damage at one run when Paxton induced a soft grounder off the bat of Mike Aviles to Taylor. Taylor charged the ball but couldn't come up with it and was charged with an error that allowed Jose Ramirez to score and led to another run in what would be the Tribe's pivotal three-run frame.
Ack attack: Ackley had been scuffling at the plate but might have gotten a big confidence-booster in the sixth inning. With two out and Kluber having gotten his previous five outs via strikeout, Brad Miller was hit by a pitch and Ackley belted an opposite-field two-run home run. It was Ackley's fourth of the season but his first since April 13.
"I have no words for it. I'm surprised it's not being talked about more throughout baseball. I know he gets his credit, but I've never seen anything like it. And, I mean, I really haven't." --Moss, on Kipnis' incredible May
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With his 15th multi-hit showing this month, Kipnis upped his hit total to 48 in May. That marks the most hits in May by a Cleveland batter, dating back to at least 1914. Kipnis is also the first Major Leaguer to have at least 48 hits and 28 runs in any one month since Lance Berkman (49 hits and 31 runs) did so in May 2008 with the Astros. Kipnis is on the cusp of becoming the first American League hitter to have a 50-hit, 30-run season since Derek Jeter achieved the feat in August 1998 with the Yankees. More >
WHAT'S NEXT Indians: Right-hander Trevor Bauer will look to continue on his recent hot stretch at 10:10 p.m. ET on Friday, when Cleveland continues this four-game set in Seattle. Over his past three starts, Bauer has gone 2-0 with a 1.21 ERA, limiting batters to a .477 OPS in 22 1/3 innings. The starter's walk and strikeout rates are very similar to last season, but he has shown improvement in the number of hits he has allowed per nine innings (7.0 in 2015 compared to 8.9 in '14).
Mariners:Taijuan Walker is looking for a rebound. The 22-year-old righty took his fifth loss of the season in his last start on May 24 in Toronto and has given up eight earned runs on 13 hits over 9 1/3 innings in his last two outings. The big inning has been part of his recent struggles. Walker hadn't allowed a hit until a leadoff single in the fifth inning against the Blue Jays but gave up four runs in that frame alone. He makes his first career start vs. the Indians at 7:10 p.m. PT.