CLEVELAND — Assigning reason to the Indians win Friday turned into a baseball rundown of sorts.
Many were involved, as running them down shows.
Or something like that.
The major factor in beating Kansas City in the opening game of a three-game series: Corey Kluber.
The Indians starter continues his ascension in the rotation, to the point that he’s gone from an April callup to a mainstay of the starting staff.
Kluber had his second good outing in a row, and this time he got the win (unlike last time against Detroit). He threw seven-and-two-third shutout innings, and gave up just three hits. He got in trouble in the fifth thanks to a triple and two walks, but got the dangerous Alex Gordon to strike out swinging and the dangerous Eric Hosmer to ground back to Kluber.
Of the next 11 hitters, one reached base (on a walk).
“He did not let any of their hitters get comfortable at all,” said Cody Allen, who had an adventurous ninth-inning save.
“He had stuff working, had them off balance — in front, late, all of it. I tip my cap to him,” said Michael Bourn, whose pinch-hit single scored two of the Indians three runs.
Kluber’s development has been a big part of the first half. He started the season in AAA before being recalled in April. He joined the rotation soon after, and has improved as the season has progressed.
In his last eight starts, he has a 3.60 ERA, in his last 12 it’s been 3.34
Manager Terry Francona said when Kluber was sent down in spring training that an organization was in good shape when it sent guys to the minors who could pitch in the majors. But Francona admitted Friday that in March he did not see the Kluber he’s seeing now.
“And I asked him about it,” Francona said. “He was coming off that knee surgery. To his credit he never said a word. He didn’t have the fastball, the life.”
In December, Kluber’s knee locked up on him while he was playing with his daughter. Surgery to remove torn cartilage followed. He pitched in the spring, but never admitted to his knee not being 100 percent.
“He said, ‘What am I going to say? I’m a young kid fighting for a spot,’” Francona said. “And that actually showed me something. He never said a word. Then as the knee and the leg got stronger, all of a sudden you see him as the season progresses seemingly getting stronger.”
Kluber doesn’t say much, and after the win he wouldn’t admit the knee bothered him. All he said was the further he got away from the surgery the stronger he is. At this point, the case can be made that Kluber is pushing to be the team’s most reliable starter.
He has seven wins, a 3.88 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.27:1. He has a fastball in the high 90s, a cutter, a curve and a changeup that was very effective Friday.
“When he stays aggressive with his gameplan — by that I mean his fastball and pitches off of that — he is really effective,” Francona said. “He’s got enough velocity and locates it where he can speed hitters up. Then he can get back in the count with his breaking ball.”
If this were hockey, Kluber would get the first star of the game.
Second would go to one of two guys: Bourn or Mark Reynolds. Both played key roles in the three-run seventh inning that won the game.
Reynolds came up with runners on first and second and nobody out, his average falling with each struggling at-bat.
As Aaron Crow wound up, Reynolds did what he couldn’t remember doing: He bunted. And it was a perfect bunt, to the right of and past the pitcher and short of the dirt. Francona called it a “blueprint” for a bunt.
Reynolds hasn’t had a sacrifice bunt since 2008, and he couldn’t remember the last time he bunted for a hit.
“I just wanted to do something positive, you know,” he said. “I figured, worst case, get the runners to second and third, give the guys a chance to score some more runs.”
It’s been a tough stretch for Reynolds, but in this case he avoided a strikeout and a double-play with an at-bat that had his name trending on Twitter.
“I think that caught everybody on the Royals, in the stands, in the press box, and me, by surprise,” Francona said. “But it might have won us a game. That was unbelievable. That’s a guy who cares more about winning than hitting the ball 500 feet. That was impressive.”
The manager also was happy about Jason Kipnis sliding around the tag of Salvador Perez to score the first run, and about Bourn interrupting his day off to drive in two with a double.
“That’s the kind of guys you want around,” Francona said of Bourn.
Friday, he could have said it about several of his guys.