CLEVELAND — Unless he threw a complete-game two hitter, it was going to be hard for Corey Kluber to duplicate what he did in his last start. But even on a night when he wasn’t as sharp, he was still extremely effective.
The right-hander allowed only one run in 7 1/3 innings as the Indians extended their win streak to four, beating Cincinnati 7-1 at Progressive Field on Monday. After going 1-3 in June, Kluber is 5-0 with a 1.32 ERA in his past six starts with 50 strikeouts and only six walks.
"I didn’t have great command early on but was able to reel it in the middle of the game and got in a groove," Kluber said.
Added manager Terry Francona: "You go through periods where things are working. Even when you are not at your best you are still good. He started out tonight with real good stuff. They made him work in the first, and second innings but he pitches out of it. They got his pitch count up pretty high and then he got efficient."
After throwing 85 pitches in last Wednesday’s complete-game, three-hitter against Seattle, Kluber threw 110 against the Reds with 77 strikes. He threw 51 pitches the first three innings but was able to get out of jams. A second-inning walk to Jack Hannahan snapped a streak of 22 2/3 innings where he had not had a base on balls.
With runners on first and second with one out in the third, Kluber then retired 11 straight before Skip Schumaker led off the seventh with a single. In the eighth, Jay Bruce led off with a single and advanced to second on a one-out single by Devin Mesoraco which chased Kluber.
Brayan Pena’s double off Nick Hagadone drove in Bruce and snapped a string of 17 straight scoreless innings by Kluber. It was also the first earned run he allowed since July 19 at Detroit or 25 innings. Kluber has allowed two runs or few in nine of his last 10 starts dating back to June 15.
"As advertised. I know he’s a tremendous pitcher. I think we all knew that coming in. However, we did have five runners on in the first three innings, we got his pitch count up," Reds manager Brian Price said. "The kid threw a nice ball game and did the things that we knew about from watching him on video and reading about him in the paper and all of the other stuff. He’s very good."
Unlike most of his starts, Kluber got early run support. Jason Kipnis led off the first with a double and scored on a two-out grounder by Michael Brantley. The Indians broke it open in the fourth on a three-run homer by Lonnie Chisenhall.
"Any time you can score in the first inning and get off to that kind of start it helps for the confidence of the team," Kluber said. We’ve had some instances where we’ve scored early and haven’t been able to add on."
After the Mariners game, a couple MLB Network Radio commentators said Kluber would be third or fourth on their Cy Young ballots. With the run he’s been on, Kluber could be on a lot more.
Kluber improved to 12-6 and his 2.55 ERA is fifth in the American League. He’s also third with 177 strikeouts and second in innings pitched (165 2/3). The Indians are 15-9 in games that Kluber starts.
"I think Kluber has pitched to the point where heck yeah we better play with confidence. He is one of the best pitchers in the league," Francona said.
In five interleague starts this season, Kluber is 4-1 with a 1.83 ERA, allowing just seven earned runs in 34 1/3 innings.
"It’s incredible seeing that slider, curveball, fastball that can run away from lefties," said John Axford of Kluber. "It’s amazing to see how well he works hitters. I think that’s why he’s had so much success this season, He’s been learning along the way, the entire year gets better and stronger as the season goes along."
The Indians will need Kluber to continue to be dominating if they have any chances of getting the second Wild Card. But he can’t do it alone. Danny Salazar is 3-0 since being recalled from Columbus while Trevor Bauer has shown signs of improvement. On the current homestand, the Indians’ rotation has a 2.79 ERA. On the season, the starters have the third-worst ERA in the league at 4.31.
With Monday’s win, the Indians are 57-55 and 2 1/2 games behind Toronto. They are also trailing the Yankees, Royals and Mariners. Cleveland goes to New York for a three-game set this weekend and face Kansas City six more times.
For a team that won four straight or more 10 times last season, the current four-game run marks only the fourth time they have done that this season.
"For most of the season we would play well and then falter. We need to keep our foot on the gas pedal and keep it going as long as we can," Kluber said.