The last time a pitcher threw three straight complete games, Corey Kluber was laboring through his last full season in the minors more than two months away from his MLB debut.
It was also two years before he’d find any sustained success.
Cleveland’s reigning Cy Young winner can match a former Indians ace with his own three-start run Wednesday night in Boston against a Red Sox lineup showing plenty of offensive promise entering a new front-office era.
Cliff Lee, who won the 2008 Cy Young in Cleveland, strung three complete games together for Philadelphia from June 11-26, 2011. Kluber (8-12, 3.34 ERA) went 7-11 with a 5.56 ERA in 27 starts for Triple-A Columbus before coming up as a reliever that September.
He’s since evolved into one of the AL’s most reliable arms, and that’s only progressed in his last 14 starts with four complete games after notching three in his first 81.
The 29-year-old’s ERA won’t be confused for his 2.44 mark last season, but in terms of other categories he can control, Kluber is in some ways having a better year.
His WHIP (1.04), opponent batting average (.231), OPS (.616) and walks per nine innings (1.69) are all career lows. Possibly the greatest explanation for his record is his run-support average dipping from 4.39 last year to 3.59.
Not only has Kluber won three of his last four starts, he’s pitched complete games in each victory. He’s 3-1 with a 2.20 ERA in that span, and he’s given up two runs and four hits in 18 innings over his last two starts – both against Minnesota.
"He was just in command the whole time and I think he kind of showed you, when we score some runs, he kind of puts it in overdrive," manager Terry Francona told MLB’s official website.
Boston gave him trouble even last year, though he avoided losses in two outings and is 0-1 with a 5.56 ERA in four starts and a relief appearance in his career.
Opposing pitchers haven’t often been able to do much better lately against the Red Sox (55-63), who evened the series with Tuesday’s 9-1 win as news broke that they’d hired former Detroit boss Dave Dombrowski as president.
The Red Sox also said general manager Ben Cherington is leaving the club less than two years removed from their latest World Series title, and the announcements came on the day manager John Farrell began chemotherapy for lymphoma.
"It’s been an awkward week to say the least," interim manager Torey Lovullo said. "… Despite this news and despite these tough circumstances, we have to go out there and represent the Boston Red Sox to the best of our abilities, we have to go out there and compete every night, and we’ve got to win baseball games. Those are my expectations. I also mentioned to them that they’re going to be evaluated."
Boston has needed no such shakeup at the plate with MLB-bests of 7.0 runs per game and a .315 average over a 10-11 span. Travis Shaw is batting .500 in his last five games and Brock Holt is at .483 over his previous six.
It’s benefited Joe Kelly, who’s won his last three starts with a 4.41 ERA and improved in each, though it’s come with 27 runs of support. The right-hander gave up a run and four hits in six innings of Friday’s 15-1 home win over Seattle, but Kelly (5-6, 5.69) still hasn’t gone beyond six innings in 11 straight starts.
He’s also 4-5 with a 5.68 ERA in 14 career starts in Boston versus 20-15 with a 3.62 mark in his other 53 starts.
Jason Kipnis is 2 for 2 against Kelly, and the Cleveland second baseman returned from the 15-day disabled list Tuesday in pinch-hit duty after missing 14 games with right shoulder inflammation. He’s expected to start Wednesday, and Giovanny Urshela (sore right shoulder) could also return.
The Indians (53-66) have had Michael Brantley back for two games, and his homer was the extent of the offense Tuesday. They’ve scored one run in three of the last four games while batting .202.