CLEVELAND — For the second time in two weeks, Corey Kluber went into the ninth inning with a chance at getting a complete game. Once again, Kluber had a dominant outing but just didn’t quite make it.
The right-hander went 8 2/3 innings and struck out 10 as the Indians defeated the Tigers 6-2 during the first game of a day-night doubleheader at Comerica Park. It was the fifth time in 21 starts this season that Kluber has had a double-digit strikeout game. Only Tampa Bay’s David Price (eight) and Texas’ Yu Darvish (six) have more in the American League.
"He was terrific. He commanded his fastball, especially to his glove side with all those right-handed hitters up there and used his breaking ball off of that. That’s what you are looking for," said manager Terry Francona of Kluber.
On July 6 against Kansas City, Kluber got to the ninth but was pulled after 8 1/3 innings and 109 pitches. For the first time in his two seasons as the Indians’ manager, Francona heard a lot of boos when he lifted Kluber.
If Saturday’s game was at home, the boos might have been louder. In the ninth, Kluber allowed a leadoff double to Miguel Cabrera but then retired the next two. After Nick Castellanos doubled though and with Bryan Shaw warmed up, Francona went to the bullpen. Kluber tied a season high with 114 pitches and threw 79 strikes.
Had Kluber gone the distance, it would have marked the first complete-game win by an Indians pitcher at Comerica Park since C.C. Sabathia on Sept. 7, 2005.
Said Francona about the decision to lift Kluber: "If I had my heart I would have left him in. I know everyone wants to stay in and finish and he deserved to but you hate to see a guy after he works hard throwing that many pitches. It doesn’t help him for that next start."
After the Indians scored three runs in the top of the fourth to take the lead, Kluber got a in a bit of trouble in the home half when Eugenio Suarez walked and Bryan Holaday singled. Rajai Davis ground into a double play but Suarez advanced to third and scored on an infield single by Austin Jackson. Jason Kipnis made a running grab on the ball but double clutched and couldn’t get Jackson. Kluber got out of the inning through when Lonnie Chisenhall made a diving stop on an Ian Kinsler grounder. That started a run where Kluber retired 10 straight, including striking out the side in the seventh.
Cabrera (three hits) and Jackson (two hits) accounted for five of the Tigers’ seven hits off Kluber. Victor Martinez went 0 for 4, marking just the fourth time in the last 24 games against his former club that he has failed to get a hit.
Going into the game Kluber had struggled against the Tigers. In his eight previous starts he was 1-4 with a 4.88 ERA.
"I located my fastball pretty well for the most part. I pitched inside enough to keep them honest that they weren’t able to reach," Kluber said.
It is also the fifth game this season where Kluber has had double-digit strikeouts and one walk or less. Dennis Eckerseley was the only other Tribe pitcher to accomplish that when he had five in 1976.
Kluber has allowed two runs or fewer in six of his past seven starts and has 48 strikeouts against 11 walks.
Through Saturday’s first game, Kluber was fourth in the league in strikeouts (152), third in innings pitched (140) and tied for ninth in ERA (2.95).
"He’s been huge. It seems like each time he goes out he’s giving us seven-plus innings and keeping us in a really spot to win the game," said Chisenhall of Kluber.
In his Major League debut, Drew VerHagen held the Tribe in check for the first four innings until they started to get to him the second time through the order. Yan Gomes, who turns 27 today, was 3 for 4 with three runs scored while Jason Kipnis was 2 for 5 with two RBI. David Murphy also had two RBI.