Kluber quietly slipping back into Cy discussion

Indians' ace 5-0 with 1.65 ERA over past seven starts after vintage outing vs. White Sox

Kluber quietly slipping back into Cy discussion

CLEVELAND -- It was a pitch out of Corey Kluber's vintage collection. After it left the right hand of the Indians' ace, the baseball spun in the direction of the front hip of White Sox catcher Omar Narvaez. Then, the two-seamer obeyed the orders given through the pressure applied and the flick of Kluber's fingers.

Narvaez straightened up and lifted his arms, hoping to avoid being hit by the offering, but it ran back over the inside part of the plate for a called strikeout. With that second-inning punchout, Kluber made it known that Chicago would be in for a long night in what developed into a 3-1 victory for the Indians on Tuesday.

"Every time he toes the rubber," Indians closer Cody Allen said, "you know you have a chance to see something special."

What Kluber gave Cleveland this time around was pretty standard for the rotation's leader.

Kluber went six innings. He struck out seven. He walked two. He flinched only once, allowing a solo homer to Justin Morneau. It was not an overwhelming outing, but an effective one, and there have been plenty of those of late for the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner.

Over his past seven turns, Kluber has fashioned a tidy 1.65 ERA, piling up 49 strikeouts against 11 walks in 49 innings. In that span, the right-hander has posted a 0.98 WHIP to go along with a .213 opponents' batting average. For those who still appreciate the pitcher win, Kluber has chalked up a 5-0 ledger during the recent run of dominance.

Kluber has gone 7-1 with a 2.08 ERA in his past 10 starts, lowering his season ERA to 3.15 from 3.94 in the process.

"He looks like the tank's full," Indians manager Terry Francona said, "which is really good for us."

What Kluber has done over the past two months is becoming reminiscent of the stellar second-half surge that powered his run to the AL Cy Young Award. The righty is a different pitcher these days, though. Back then, he leaned heavily on his two-seamer, barely threw a four-seamer, and countered with his sharp cutter and confounding curve.

The sinker-cutter-curve trio remains the primary formula for Kluber's success, but he has become more crafty as he has aged, and velocity has ticked down a hair. Within the confines of this season, Kluber has progressively worked toward a more even distribution of those three main pitches, while slowly backing away from the four-seamer that he has used more often this year and last.

Kluber said he has tried to counteract the fact that lineups have been attacking his fastballs in early-count situations.

"A lot of times," Kluber explained, "teams have the approach of maybe trying to go up there and ambush something hard, because they don't want to get to the offspeed stuff. So, if we can make a good pitch with one of those, then a lot of times you can get a quick out or try to keep them off-balance with something soft early on.

"So, if you know teams are going to be aggressive against you, I guess you can kind of pick your ways to combat that and, hopefully, execute a pitch and get a quick out, or get some soft contact."

With his string of strong starts, Kluber is back in the thick of the Cy Young discussion among AL pitchers. After his victory over the White Sox, Kluber remained first in the league in WAR (4.3, according to Fangraphs) and Fielding Independent Pitching (3.01), while ranking third in innings (163), fourth in strikeouts (163), fifth in opponents' average (.217) and among the leaders in multiple other categories.

As the season has worn on, Kluber has been in vintage form.

"His stuff's so good, he works so hard, he's so consistent," Allen said. "You know it's literally a matter of time before he goes out there and punches out 18 or throws a complete-game shutout."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.