Corey Kluber’s dominance was on full display again Friday night at Progressive Field as the quiet right-hander continued to let his pitching do the talking.
Kluber and the Indians cruised to a 5-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies that featured 12 strikeouts as another standout performance that marked Kluber’s fifth double-digit career strikeout effort including his third already this season.
Kluber concluded the month of May 4-0 with a 2.09 ERA along with 60 strikeouts in 43 innings, becoming only the fifth Cleveland pitcher since 1914 with that many strikeouts in any month. It’s also the most strikeouts in the month of May since Curt Schilling racked up 62 in 2002 for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Yet, for all the hoopla over Kluber’s rising strike totals, he acts like he just can’t understand what all the hoopla’s about.
“I think strikeouts are a byproduct of making good pitches,” he said dryly. “It’s not going out there trying to strike guys out…I don’t really think of myself as a (strikeout) pitcher. I’m just trying to go out there and pitch.”
Kluber’s mastery featured a late-breaking cutter had the Rockies batters flailing from the start.
“Power, movement, command,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He was good. It’s not just stuff, it’s location. When he comes in, he came in hard. When you see a guy’s best fastball thrown for a strike in(side), it’s impressive.”
By the sixth inning the Rockies seemed so frustrated, his 11th punch out - a called strikeout of Michael Cuddyer that ended the quick inning - left the veteran batter in the face of home plate umpire John Tumpane. Moments after manager Walt Weiss jogged out to separate the two and resume the argument with Tumpane, he was ejected.
The Indians offense backed Kluber with an early run and then rallied for four runs in the fifth to take the lead for good, helping snap the Tribe’s four-game losing streak while knocking Rockies starter Juan Nicasio out of the game after just 4 2/3 innings.
The Indians batsmen made Nicasio work from the start. They pieced together a 1-0 first-inning lead with three singles – including two coming with two outs and capped by Lonnie Chisenhall’s RBI base hit.
Kluber had already racked up his first five strikeouts over the first three innings before the Rockies got to him in the fourth. Corey Dickerson led off double and with one out, Carlos Gonzalez smacked a two-run home run to center that put the Rockies ahead 2-1.
It was Kluber’s only mistake of the night.
“Changeup, belt high down the middle,” said Kluber, never one to mince words or show an ounce of emotion. “Wasn’t a good pitch.”
After falling behind in the count 0-2 in the fifth inning after David Murphy led off with a double, Indians rookie Jesus Aguilar drove a Nicasio pitch to center. But he was robbed by a leaping catch at wall by Rockies centerfielder Charlie Blackmon.
However, Michael Bourn followed with a run-scoring single up the middle that knotted the score at 2-2 tie. But Asdrubal Cabrera made up for Aguilar’s near miss with a sure shot homer to left field two batters later.
Before the rally was complete, Chisenhall added his second run-scoring hit of the night via a RBI-double that scored Michael Brantley, as the Indians four-run inning gave them a three-run advantage. Brantley’s two-out double in the inning extended his Progressive Field hitting streak to a club-record 19 games and his overall hitting streak to 15 games.
One strikeout away from tying his career high of 13 set earlier in the month on May 4, Kluber came back out to start the eighth inning having thrown 103 pitches. He promptly got the first out via a groundout to short. But with a couple of left-handed hitters up next, Francona made his way out to the mound.
As Kluber gave way to the bullpen in favor of left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski, he exited the mound to a well-deserved standing ovation.
“It’s fun to write (Kluber’s) name in the lineup every fifth day,” Francona said. “He just continues to get better. And against that lineup? You see the numbers up on the board, but they’re a very difficult team to strikeout because they do a really good job of putting the ball in play. Just about everybody in the (Rockies) lineup, there’s a bunch of crooked numbers up there. So what he did is all the more impressive.”