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Indians' Kluber breaks out

Corey Kluber has gone from an extra option to a solidified starter

Baseball is often full of surprises.

That big run-producing hitter a team was relying on before the season can get hurt or underperform, but then another player can come out of nowhere to help pick up the slack.

A pitcher considered a depth starting option at the outset of spring training can make the most of an opportunity when thrust into a more prominent role because of injuries or poor performance from other starters.

That is what right-hander Corey Kluber has done this season. When the Indians began spring training in Arizona in February, he was the eighth starter in the organization’s pecking order, but his performance to date has him now as arguably their first- or second-best starter.

Kluber, 27, found his way into the Indians starting rotation in late April because of a unique set of circumstances. Right-hander Brett Myers came up lame and went on the disabled list, and right-hander Carlos Carrasco was unavailable because he had an eight-game suspension hanging over his head. The Indians also wanted to keep young phenom right-hander Trevor Bauer in Triple-A Columbus to get consistent work.

So Kluber got a chance to move into the rotation in what was first considered a temporary move. He made his first start on April 28th in Kansas City and had a remarkable outing — he went seven strong innings, allowed just two runs on seven hits, no walks and had six strikeouts.

Kluber has since settled into the rotation nicely, compiling a 5-4 record with a 3.58 ERA. He is giving up a hit an inning though is also averaging a strikeout an inning, and most incredibly is averaging over five strikeouts for every walk he allows.  Over his 12 total appearances he has really had just one poor outing — May 10th at Detroit when he allowed eight runs on 11 hits in 4.2 innings.

So what has led to Kluber’s surprise showing this season? And is it sustainable?

Carrasco had a similar stretch of good performance in June 2011. To make a believer out of people, Kluber will need to be consistent. He has already made a believer out of a lot of people, including yours truly, who has never been firmly on the Kluber bandwagon before this season.

If you have not yet jumped on the Kluber bandwagon, it might be time to get on.

Kluber is proving to be a workhorse starting pitcher who can haul innings, maintain his composure in tough situations and has extraordinary stuff. Since acquiring him in July 2010 in a trade for Jake Westbrook, the Indians have been high on him — they think he has the best stuff in their system.

Kluber is proving himself with a good two-seam fastball that sits at 90-94 mph and has touched 96 mph. The fastball has top-notch movement which makes it hard for hitters to square it up, and he has three good secondary offerings with a plus slider, changeup and cutter that he can attack hitters with. His slider has a good, hard break that has been devastating to hitters this season. The cutter he added late in 2011 is also proving to be an effective major league offering as well.

What is most impressive about Kluber is how he commands the zone while also having swing-and-miss stuff. That is a rare combination as strikeout pitchers will often walk their fair share of hitters and command-control guys typically pitch to contact and get few strikes swinging.

Kluber's fastball command, which given him trouble the past two seasons, has improved. He's finding his rhythm, throwing consistent strikes and keeping the ball down in the zone.

His breakthrough performance is being powered by a sinking fastball with more velocity and movement than in years past, a slider which went from very good to top shelf and good command to boot.

Kluber can remove the interim label from his spot in the starting rotation. He has earned a more permanent spot and may have solidified himself as a foundational piece in the Indians' rotation for the next several years.