CLEVELAND — Corey Kluber began May in dominating fashion. On Friday he capped off the month with another stifling performance.
The right-hander struck out 12 in 7 1/3 innings as the Indians broke a four-game losing streak with a 5-2 win over Colorado on Friday to start a six-game homestand at Progressive Field.
"It’s fun to write his name in every fifth day," Terry Francona said. "He just continues to get better and against that lineup because they’re very difficult to strikeout. They do a good job of putting the ball in play. What he did was that much more impressive.
"Power, movement, command. He was good."
In six starts in May, Kluber has gone from a pitcher with a lot of potential to the Indians’ ace. He went 4-0 with a 2.09 ERA and the Indians went 5-1 in games that he started. But what are more impressive are the 60 strikeouts against only eight walks.
With 12 strikeouts on Friday, Kluber became just the fifth Indians pitcher to strike out at least 60 in a single month and the first since Dennis Eckersley registered 60 K’s in Sept./Oct. of 1976. The other Tribe hurlers to do it are Sam McDowell (eight times), Bob Feller (eight times) and Herb Score (once).
Kluber joins Yu Darvish as the only pitchers in the Majors in the last 10 seasons to record 60 or more strikeouts in a single month. Darvish had 64 last August for the Rangers. The last pitcher in the Majors to reach that milestone in May was Arizona’s Curt Schilling, who had 62 in 2002.
If you expected Kluber to be overjoyed about his month, you must not have seen many of his interviews. Whether it is getting pelted by water and baby powder during an in-game interview in the dugout or facing the media after the game, the 28-year old, who wasn’t on the Indians’ roster on Opening Day last year, might be the Major-League version of Steven Wright.
He said that he didn’t even know how many strikeouts he had in the month and that the biggest key was consistency.
"I think I keep saying I think strikeouts are a byproduct of making good pitches. It’s not going out there trying to strike guys out," said Kluber, who has taken over the AL lead in strikeouts with 95. "I don’t really think of myself as a certain type of pitcher. I’m just trying to go out there and pitch."
It was also Kluber’s sixth straight game with eight strikeouts or more, which leads the Majors. Five pitchers, including the Reds’ Johnny Cueto, had four-game runs. The streak began when he struck out a career-high 13 on May 4 against the White Sox.
On Friday, Kluber didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning and his only mistake of the night came on a 0-1 changeup to Carlos Gonzalez in the fourth inning that resulted in a two-run homer to give the Rockies a 2-1 lead. The Tribe got the lead back with a four-run fifth. Michael Bourn’s one-out single scored David Murphy with the go-ahead run and Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a two-run homer to provide some breathing room.
"There were a lot of big hits in timely situations. Lonnie (Chisenhall) had a couple two-out RBI and Cabby put a got charge on the ball too," said Kluber, who allowed five hits and walked one.
Colorado struck out a season-high 15 times. Of Kluber’s 12, five were third-strikes that had the Rockies looking.
Of Kluber’s 60 strikeouts in May, 31 of the third strikes have been on curveballs, 17 on sliders, 11 sinkers and a fastball.
"He can make the ball go both ways. He can cut it and has a slider and changeup," Francona said. "He throws both sides of the plate. It’s late movement. It’s hard to distinguish the ball because it might be a couple feet from the plate when it moves."
Added Bourn: "It looks kinda nasty. I mean, he’s hard to get a hold of because he has balls going both ways. He knows how to expand the plate when he needs to and put it on the corner when he needs to. He’s getting a real feel for pitching. He’s only getting better and it seems like he has that attitude of trying to get better."
It’s not only the strikeouts though that has made Kluber’s month impressive. In all six May starts, he went at least 6 2/3 innings (the rest of the rotation has three) and has 100-plus pitches in four.
With a starting rotation that has the third-worst ERA in the American League (4.70), Kluber has become a bright spot and might join Michael Brantley as the only Indians deserving All Star Game consideration.
"I just think his stuff is so dominant. It’s not just stuff it is location," Francona said. "When he comes in he came in hard. When you see a guy’s best fastball for a called strike in that’s impressive."
BRANTLEY SETS MARK: With a double in the fifth inning, Brantley extended his hitting streak at home to 19 games, which is a new record for an Indians batter since Progressive Field opened in 1994.
The record was 18 and previously shared by Kenny Lofton (1996) and Robbie Alomar (2000). The last Indians’ home hit streak longer than 18 games was in 1984 when Julio Franco hit safely in 19 straight at Cleveland Stadium from June 8-July22.
Brantley also has a 15-game overall hit streak, which is the longest current one in the Majors and the third-longest this season in the American League.