Veteran rebounds after 8-run outing with 9-strikeout, 3-hit gem
By Shane Jackson
CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona didn't have to think long about it. Before a pair of Tribe homers in the eighth could even land, Francona had already decided to send his ace Corey Kluber back out for the last inning.
Kluber ran into a little trouble by giving up a pair of singles -- his first hit allowed since the second inning -- but he ultimately shut the door to close out a shutout in a 6-0 win over the Rays. Tuesday's outing marked Kluber's second shutout in this up-and-down season and the third of his career.
"We talked about pitch count lots of times," Francona said. "Sometimes it can be harder on a pitcher that's laboring regardless of the pitch count. I think Kluber stayed in his delivery just fine."
The 30-year-old righty's performance helped Cleveland notch to its fifth straight win and 10th consecutive home victory. It also clinched a series win over the Rays and kept the Indians in sole possession of first place.
It was a brilliant bounce-back outing for the ace after he tied a career high by allowing eight runs to Kansas City in his previous start. Still, Kluber left the field with the same mindset after Tuesday's complete game as he did when he left the mound against the Royals after just five innings.
"When that one's over, you flush it and move onto the next one, just like you do right now," Kluber said. "Now, this game's over and done with, so you start preparing for the next one."
Kluber took advantage of an aggressive Rays team by striking out nine batters, one shy of his season-high. It marked the eighth straight game he has recorded at least five strikeouts and 13th time he has done that this season.
That mark leads the American League and has him tied for second in the Majors.
"They were pretty aggressive for the most part," Francona said. "Some first-pitch outs which really helped. Kept his pitch count down. Then he started getting comfortable."
The Rays entered Tuesday night with the second-most strikeouts in the AL with 635. Their strikeout percentage of 24.8 coming in was the highest mark in AL, second in the Majors.
Kluber certainly knew the scouting report coming in and took full advantage. He now has 58 strikeouts over 48 1/3 innings of work in seven career starts against the Rays.
"I know Tampa Bay the last three years hasn't liked seeing his name," Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "He likes seeing this lineup, and he pitched well tonight."
But regardless of who he is facing, Kluber's showing proved he is still the ace of one of the best starting staffs in baseball. Even if he was coming off a season-worst outing.
"He's capable of doing that every single time out," Kipnis said. "You guys have seen that, except for the last one in Kansas City, like I said, he's kind of found it. A couple of other guys have been saying it. He was sharp."
Shane Jackson is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cleveland. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.