A return to form for Kluber boosts rotation

A return to form for Kluber boosts rotation

CHICAGO -- The Indians' Jason Kipnis hasn't had many runners to talk to, but he mentioned a poll he has been conducting at second base.

Kipnis has been asking about ace Corey Kluber, who started slow this season but has looked much better recently, adding to that by allowing two runs (one earned) over 7 1/3 innings in Wednesday's 4-3 win against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.

"I've been asking the few hitters that have gotten to second base today and in Boston," Kipnis said. "They say his stuff, he might have found it again. He's been looking real sharp."

That's exceptional news for the Indians, who have gotten by just fine despite Carlos Carrasco on the disabled list with a left hamstring injury and Kluber (4-5, 3.78 ERA) not starting this season as his dominant self.

The Indians entered Wednesday with the American League's fifth-best starting pitcher ERA at 4.02. The White Sox -- in fourth at 3.67 -- are the only American League Central team ahead of Cleveland.

"When you have at least six, seven guys you can throw out there that you're confident can not only win games for you, but shut teams down, at least give you a chance to win each night, you can't ask for much more than that," Kipnis said.

The biggest contributors have been Danny Salazar and Josh Tomlin, who have further proved reliable in a rotation known for its collection of self-made pitchers.

Salazar retires 15th straight

Salazar has started 4-3 with a 2.32 ERA, which ranks sixth among qualifying AL starters. Tomlin is 7-0, and manager Terry Francona was quick to point out Tomlin was exceptional last season, too. Since his first start of 2015 on Aug. 15, Tomlin has a 14-2 record with a 3.16 ERA in 18 starts. Jake Arrieta is the only pitcher in baseball with more wins in that time with 17.

"They're doing awesome," Kluber said. "That's our goal, to have one through five, every time we go out there, whichever guy is on the mound, and feel like we're winning the game that day no matter what."

Tomlin improves to 7-0

The Indians still have a question mark at the back of the rotation. Cody Anderson, Mike Clevinger and Trevor Bauer have all logged starts, but Francona said he is encouraged with his group of young pitchers who could get better with time.

The fact Francona has an ace in Kluber, the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner, doesn't hurt.

"We have some other guys pitching pretty well, but he certainly anchors [the rotation]," Francona said, "We have that one guy that has the responsibility of maybe going up against the other team's best pitcher, and he's earned that."

So in a tightening AL Central race, the Indians are affirming the notion their pitching can compete with the best.

"That's the idea, if you can have a rotation where you show up to the ballpark, and your guys think you have a good chance to win," Francona said.

Cody Stavenhagen is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.