Stephanie Storm’s final thoughts on the Indians 2-0 victory over the Mariners Wednesday as new staff ace Corey Kluber proved why he’s more than ready to take over Justin Masterson’s old role with an exclamation mark - on the same day Masterson is traded to St. Louis.
1) How ironic is that Kluber’s best game of his career comes on the same day his buddy and next-door locker mate Masterson is dealt to the Cardinals for minor league outfield prospect James Ramsey?
Maybe not as much as you might think. Kluber’s been the Indians defacto ace most of the season anyway. Masterson hadn’t pitched like one since the season opener. Kluber may be quieter than most, but he played the yin to the goofy Masterson’s yang. Now, the leadership role is square on the shoulders of Kluber.
“We’re really looking for him to be a leader now that Masty is gone,” Tribe pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. “There’s a big void to fill there and I think Kluber is that guy. There is a little part of me that thinks he pitched like that because he knows he is going to step up and do what he needs to do to lead that staff.”
2) Kluber wasn’t just good Wednesday is his first-career complete game shutout in which he needed a mere 85 pitches and threw just 16 balls. He was outstanding, limiting the Mariners to three hits while striking out eight and out dueling one of – if not the – best pitcher currently in the game in the Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez.
Catcher Yan Gomes, who genuinely sounded as impressed by Kluber’s outing as any Tribe would be, noted that usually when a pitcher issues as few balls as Kluber did Wednesday night, it can backfire.
“Usually, guys get into trouble when they don't throw too many balls,” Gomes said. “But every ball he threw was a good pitch. And he stayed out of the middle of the plate all night with his strikes.”
3) Gomes suggested that because of how quick two-hour and 10-minunte game sailed along thanks to Kluber's efficiency (he faced one batter over the minimum), it felt like a perfect game or no-hitter.
Given Kluber’s dominance on the night, Gomes took offense to a television reporter referring to Hernandez by his nickname “King Felix” while asking a post game question.
“I know the guy’s a real good pitcher, but King? Really?” he grumbled, annoyed that such a phrase would be uttered on a night in which Kluber was the better pitcher.
4) Kluber showed a rare (at least publicly) sense of humor Wednesday night when asked about the players paying a final gesture to Masterson by wearing their uniform pants high to show their socks in old school manner the way Masterson wears them.
“Nobody let me know about it so I had to run in here and change after warming up,” Kluber said with a wry smile. “I didn’t want to be the only with them down. (It was) a little bit of late notice…it was something minute, but just a way to show how much we appreciated what he did while he was here.”
5) All jokes aside, Kluber admitted how much he’s appreciated Masterson’s help over the years.
“Probably more than I’ve ever let him know,” Kluber said. “He was a big part of helping me learn how to be a big leaguer, learning how to pitch up here. Hopefully, I can pass along as much information (to other young pitchers) as he’s given me.”
6) Indians officials met with the team as news broke of Masterson’s impending departure. They wanted to make sure no one took the trade the wrong way – that the club was purely being sellers this season and have given up on trying to contend the rest of the way.
“(The Indians front office) made it a point to tell us its not throwing in the white flag,” Kluber said. “(The trade was) trying to do what they thought was best - and you accept that as the business side of the game.”
7) Francona sounded as if he were hurt by the mere suggestion that trading Masterson might look like the Tribe is packing it in this season.
“We will never raise the white flag,” he said prior to Wednesday’s game. “That's not an option. We're going to play.”
8) With Masterson’s departure, the Indians pitching rotation has gotten increasingly younger and inexperienced.
After Kluber, the rest of the rotation includes right-handers Josh Tomlin coming off Tommy John surgery and youngsters Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar and rookie left-hander T.J. House.
But that doesn’t mean that Indians general manager Chris Antonetti is content to sit pat before Thursday’s 4 p.m. deadline.
“…We can never have enough starting pitching,” Antonetti said. “We’ve been encouraged by some developmental progress of some of the guys, but we obviously need them to continue to grow, get better and perform more consistently in the second half.”
8) Moving the struggling Masterson was the right thing to do for the Indians, despite what a good guy he is. Understand first that Masterson is a free agent at the end of the season. If the Indians let him walk, they’d get nothing in return.
Also, it’s assumed that the Tribe brass had already decided they weren’t going to extend Masterson a Qualifying Offer this coming off season, which would have likely been around $15 million. It’s a move too risky to chance given Masteron’s current struggles among other things.
Plus, the Cardinals are now on the hook for the remaining salary owed to Masterson (who will join the Cardinals in St. Louis Friday and is scheduled to make his debut for his new team on Saturday) this season - just over $3 million.
9) For a cash-strapped team like the Indians, any little extra money can help, and Antonetti made it clear he’s still trying to make a deal for a major league addition to the roster.
“We’re currently in the midst of conversations to bring players in to impact our major league team,” he said. “Now, whether or not that happens over the next 24 hours, there’s a lot of factors in play and it’s hard to handicap that. But we still want to go out and win as many games as we can in the second half.”
10) Finally, who is this Ramsey kid anyway?
The Cardinals 2012 pick (23rd overall) out of Florida State Ramsey has spent this season at Double-A Springfield, where compiled a .300/.389/.527 slash line in 67 games. He also hit 13 home runs and owned 36 RBI. Baseball folks in the know are comparing Ramsey (who Antonetti said will report to Triple-A Columbus) to the Tribe’s 2012 first-round selection – Tyler Naquin.
In fact, the two players are so much alike and the Indians have stockpiled a handful of young outfield prospects, don’t be surprised if Naquin (who is out for the rest of the season with a broken hand) is dealt before Thursday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline as the Indians can use him for trade bait as they try to pick up more starting pitching.