It took some time but Corey Kluber might be regaining the form that won him the AL Cy Young Award last season.
Coming off back-to-back stellar performances, Kluber can help the Cleveland Indians record a fifth straight victory by sending the visiting Cincinnati Reds to a seventh consecutive defeat Saturday.
After going 0-5 with a 5.04 ERA in his first seven starts, Kluber (1-5, 3.79 ERA) allowed a hit and struck out 18 without a walk in eight innings of a 2-0 victory over St. Louis on May 13. Five days later, the right-hander gave up one run, five hits and fanned 12 over nine during Cleveland’s most recent defeat – 2-1 in 10 innings to the Chicago White Sox.
"Oh boy, he was so special," manager Terry Francona said.
Kluber’s 30 strikeouts in those two starts tied Sam McDowell from 1968 for the second-most in team history over a two-game span. He’ll take aim at Luis Tiant, whose 41, also in 1968, are the most by an Indian over a three-game stretch since 1914.
"(Kluber’s) probably the best pitcher in the game," Chicago’s Chris Sale, who opposed him Monday, told MLB’s official website. "He has the nastiest stuff I’ve ever seen, really."
Kluber apparently isn’t too concerned with personal accolades, especially when Cleveland (18-23) has won once in his nine starts.
"I think Klu’s biggest thing when he goes out there to pitch is if we win," Francona said.
In his only appearance versus Cincinnati (18-23) on Aug. 4, Kluber allowed a run and struck out seven over 7 1-3 innings in a 7-1 home victory.
Indians starters have a 1.73 ERA while the staff has yielded nine runs over the last four contests. Carlos Carrasco struck out seven and allowed two runs in six innings and Jason Kipnis added three more hits with two RBIs during Friday’s 7-3 win over Cincinnati.
Cleveland has averaged 4.9 runs and batted .270 while winning six of eight.
"We’re playing a lot better right now," said outfielder Brandon Moss, who homered and had three RBIs on Friday. "Obviously we’re disappointed with the way we started off, but when you’ve done well before and have that experience of doing well you don’t panic."
Kipnis has 11 RBIs while leading the majors with a .463 average and .546 on-base percentage in May. The second baseman is batting .600 (24 for 40), has a .680 on-base percentage and is slugging .925 during a 10-game home hitting streak this month.
He’s 9 for 19 in his last five against the Reds, who have been outscored 47-16 during a six-game skid and are a season-worst five games below .500.
"This will end and things will get better for us, but it’s the worst feeling right now," manager Bryan Price said.
Anthony DeSclafani (2-4, 3.80) didn’t help matters as he fell to 0-4 and saw his ERA rise to 6.38 over his last five starts after allowing a season-high six runs in a season-low three innings of Sunday’s 9-8 loss to San Francisco.
"It’s not going my way now, but I’ve got to keep working at it and trying to make adjustments and try to catch a rhythm in the next few starts," said the right-hander, who makes his first appearance against the Indians.
Teammate Joey Votto, who struck out three times Friday, is 3 for 20 in the last five contests.
Todd Frazier, meanwhile, is batting .328 in his last 16.
The Reds have lost five straight and 10 of their last 11 interleague contests.