Special K: Kluber thrusting self into Cy Young mix
Righty finishes August with 11-strikeout outing vs. Twins
By Shane Jackson
CLEVELAND -- Twins second baseman Brian Dozier could only shake his head in disbelief, barking at himself in frustration after watching a sinker catch the outside corner for a called strike.
From the very first at-bat, it was evident that Indians ace Corey Kluber was going to have that kind of night and the Minnesota batters could merely watch. Kluber whiffed 11 batters in the Indians' 8-4 win on Wednesday to complete a three-game sweep of the Twins at Progressive Field.
"It was good to get out there and get some quick innings early," Kluber said, "and get ahead of them and pounded the zone and was able to go pretty deep."
Dozier fouled off a fastball and a curveball on the first two pitches of the night to fall behind in the count. Then he watched the next two pitches just barely miss the strike zone. On the fifth pitch, Kluber went back to his sinker to freeze Dozier. Two batters later, Trevor Plouffe watched a 1-2 sinker go by him to end the inning.
It was that kind of night for Kluber, who stymied the Minnesota offense. He was charged with three runs on six hits, two of which came on home run swings by Dozier and Max Kepler. Most importantly, he lasted eight innings on a night after the bullpen logged 7 1/3 innings.
"When [Kluber] is on the mound, I think something special is about to happen," Indians catcher Roberto Perez said. "That's how confident we are in him. Me, as a catcher back there, I'm really confident about him going seven, eight or nine innings every time he goes out there. It was nice."
The bullpen is confident as well in Kluber's ability to go deep, and they graciously accept it. Entering Wednesday, the 'pen had logged 18 innings over the previous four games while the starters had recorded just 17 innings.
Admist the recent struggles of the rotation, Kluber has been consistent and dominant. Kluber has strung 10 consecutive quality starts, which ties Justin Verlander for the longest active steak in the Majors. It is the longest streak of his career, and the first time a Tribe hurler has done so since Cliff Lee had a similar stretch in 2009.
"Yeah, he's pretty good," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "That's a nice feeling knowing that every five days, and it's not like we don't have other guys, but he's so consistent at a high level that it's really nice."
Kluber's stellar stretch has more than etched his name into the wide open American League Cy Young race. He is now 6-0 in nine starts since the All-Star break. During that span, he has posted a 2.04 ERA. And that is coming off a first half in which his peripherals earned him an All-Star selection.
But Kluber isn't worried about that. Instead, he's already focused on the next start and what he has to do in the days leading up to it to get prepared.
"I think it's just staying consistent between starts," Kluber said. "There are going to be days where you don't feel great, but just having the mindset that I need to go out there and do what I need to do and get my job done."
And that mindset is arguably the biggest reason for his season-half success.
"I think that it comes back to his work ethic and his routines and how consistent he is," Francona said. "This is the time of year, I think he's at 183 innings and he looks every bit as fresh as he did on Opening Day and that's not easy to do."
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.