Kluber effective in start despite back tightness

Mixed results for rotation as club heads home for opener

Kluber effective in start despite back tightness

PHOENIX -- Corey Kluber was shaking his head before one of the Indians' athletic trainers even reached the mound in the fifth inning on Sunday afternoon. The Indians ace was pitching through tightness in his lower back, but he was not about to exit his outing against the D-backs.

"It was tight for most of the day," Kluber said after the Tribe's 3-2 loss at Chase Field. "But, it wasn't anything that was alarming."

Kluber had mostly the same reaction to the Interleague series in Arizona.

The D-backs were a pain in the neck for Cleveland over a three-game sweep, but no one inside the Indians' clubhouse is alarmed. Including Spring Training, the reigning American League champions have been on the road for about two months. They showed fight and plenty of offense in a three-game sweep of the Rangers to start the season, and then were dealt a brooming back in the desert.

Three up, three down, and now the Tribe finally heads home for Tuesday's Progressive Field opener.

"In a way, it almost felt like we never left Arizona," Kluber said. "It'll be nice to get back to Cleveland and play in front of our home fans."

Through the season's first six games, the Indians' highly-touted rotation has offered mixed results. Kluber (two starts), Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer have combined for a 6.15 ERA in 33 2/3 innings. In that sample, the group has compiled 39 strikeouts against 10 walks, while allowing 25 runs (23 earned) on 35 hits.

Prior to Sunday's game, manager Terry Francona dismissed the idea that there was any early-season carryover from the heavy workload shouldered by the pitching staff in the postseason. Francona said the inconsistencies to date are of the expected variety for pitchers early in the year.

"I don't think, just when the bell rings, guys are ready to be in mid-season form," Francona said. "I think we kind of said, you hope that doesn't get in the way of you winning, because I really think until they get about four starts under their belt, then you can kind of really turn them loose."

Kluber did not necessarily agree.

"If we would've pitched really well all six games, obviously, we wouldn't be answering that [question]," Kluber said. "It's all circumstantial."

In his Opening Day outing against the Rangers, Kluber fought through blisters on two of his pitching fingers and was charged with five runs (all coming in the first three innings) in a six-inning effort. Against the D-backs, Kluber looked much sharper, allowing three runs (two earned) over six frames, in which he struck out four and walked one.

"I think he had a good bounceback from his first start," Indians catcher Yan Gomes said. "We made some really good pitches."

Owings steals, scores on error

Two of the runs Kluber allowed came in the fourth inning. Arizona pieced together three straight singles with two outs for the first, and a throwing error by Gomes paved the way for the second. In the sixth inning, Kluber's third run came courtesy of an 0-2 curveball that did not dive to the dirt as hoped, but rather soared off Chris Owings' bat and into the left-field stands.

That was the extent of the damage, even with Kluber battling a back issue.

"He was actually pretty good," Francona said. "Not only is he a good pitcher, but he knows how to pitch maybe even not on his best day."

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.