MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Kluber halts Indians' starting-pitching skid

After troublesome past 5 games for rotation, righty spells 'pen with strong 8 IP

Kluber halts Indians' starting-pitching skid

NEW YORK -- The Indians' starting pitching certainly is not as porous as it has been for the past five games, and on Saturday at Yankee Stadium, right-hander Corey Kluber pushed the stop button and sent the Tribe spinning in the right direction.

"I don't think the first 100 games were a fluke," Kluber said after combining with Andrew Miller to six-hit the Yankees in a 5-2 victory. "We still have a good staff. It just happens that for whatever reasons, guys struggled consecutively.

"I had some bad outings earlier in the year, and they picked me up. I don't think we have any doubt that the guys are going to get back on track."

Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner, did his part by pitching eight innings of five-hit, two-run ball. Miller pitched the ninth and recorded his first save for the Indians only six days after the Yanks traded him to Cleveland.

Miller locks down the save

Kluber had one glitch. The Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the second inning on a double by Gary Sanchez and a wild pitch. Otherwise, the right-hander walked only one and struck out eight, holding the Yanks during the rest of his outing to two hits and three baserunners.

"He was awesome. He always is," Miller said about Kluber. "I can't wait to watch this rotation throw, and he's probably at the top of the list."

Probably even more important than the win is the fact that Indians manager Terry Francona didn't have to dip deep into the bullpen as he has all week. In the previous five starts, the Tribe's rotation was 0-4 with a 15.58 ERA, having logged just 17 1/3 innings.

That's an average of just above three innings per start. For example, Francona had to use three relievers on Friday night to bail out Josh Tomlin, who allowed seven runs on nine hits and didn't make it out of the fifth inning in a 13-7 loss to the Yankees.

The Indians still lead the American League Central, but this is no way to win a division title nor clinch a postseason berth. They led the division by as much as 7 1/2 games as late as July 20.

The Tigers are now right on their tail.

"I wish they hadn't done it, but ... it wasn't realistic that somebody wouldn't close the gap," said Francona, who managed World Series victory sweeps for the Red Sox in 2004 and '07. "Look, I never thought we were going to run away and hide in this thing. This will be fun. This is what you work for: to get there and have a chance."

The point is: The starting pitching sent the Tribe out to that big lead. For months, the overall pitching staff led the AL in team ERA, and even now at 3.87, that staff is still third in the league.

Despite the recent slump, the starters are second behind the Blue Jays in both ERA (3.94) and wins (46) and second behind the Rays in strikeouts (602).

Every facet of a team is going to hit up and down cycles throughout the long season, and the Indians' starters have just had their downturn.

In the midst of that slump, right-hander Danny Salazar went on the disabled list because of right elbow inflammation, which didn't help matters. Salazar is 11-4 with a 3.38 ERA in 20 starts, but he had been nursing the injury for a while before the Tribe's brass finally decided to shut him down Tuesday.

Salazar had compiled a 5.89 ERA -- 44 hits and 24 earned runs -- over his past seven starts, causing some alarm. In his final start on Monday in a 12-5 home loss to the Twins, Salazar lasted two-plus innings, allowing six runs on six hits, including three homers.

That's when the Indians pulled the rip cord.

"Danny won't be out long," Francona said. "The day he comes off the list, he'll be ready. We've been fighting him on this for a little bit. I think we just finally decided we'd bite the bullet, miss two or three starts, and hopefully have the Danny back that dominates some games.

"Putting him on the DL was a hard thing to do. We were on the fence. We talked to Danny a lot about it. We thought it was the right thing to do. I think regardless of how hard it is to do, you've got to do the right thing."

Starting with the Salazar game, Cleveland lost four out of five and allowed 50 runs. At the outset of that dubious streak, the Tribe acquired Miller to shore up the back end of the bullpen.

It is the irony of baseball that at that happy moment in time, the starting pitching began to collapse.

But in the strange cycle of the season, the Indians still have 54 games to get it right. Perhaps the turn began with Kluber on Saturday.

That key performance didn't lead Francona to breathe a sigh of relief.

"I don't know about that, but it felt good," he said. "He got things back in order."

And it was certainly a lot better than the recent alternative.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.