CLEVELAND — On the day that he officially became the staff ace, Corey Kluber pitched the game of his career.
Less than eight hours after Justin Masterson was dealt to the Cardinals, Kluber pitched a complete-game, three-hitter as the Indians beat the Mariners 2-0 at Progressive Field on Wednesday.
It is the right-hander’s second complete game of the season but his first shutout. In a duel with Mariners All-Star Felix Hernandez, Kluber threw 85 strikes with only 16 being balls. He allowed only three hits while striking out eight and walking none.
"Someone asked me before the game if I wasn’t a part of it if I would buy a ticket to watch it and I was like ‘yeah’. Rarely do you see two guys that are that good and on top of that on their game to boot," manager Terry Francona said. "The way Felix has thrown the only way you are going to win is to do something special and Klubes did that tonight. It is solid stuff, locating and not just down the middle but hitting in and out, up, down, changing speeds. That was really impressive."
Kluber faced only one batter over the minimum. Of the 28 batters he faced, he threw first-pitch strikes to 22 and didn’t get to a three-ball count the entire night. He got to a two-ball count on only four.
Since pitch counts began being tracked officially in 1988, Kluber is only the second Indians’ pitcher to record a nine-inning shutout in 90 pitches or less and the first since Charles Nagy did it on June 12, 1992, against the Yankees. Nagy pitched a five-hitter in 90 pitches.
"That’s always my game plan — to get early contact," Kluber said. "You just try to stay the course. They came out of the gates aggressive and kind of got more aggressive in the middle of the game. So, I was trying to keep doing what I was doing."
Factor in his start last Thursday against Kansas City and Kluber has gone 18 innings the past two games, allowing only one run (none earned) and allowing five hits with no walks and 18 strikeouts. According the Baseball-Reference’s Play Index, Kluber is the only pitcher in Major League history to face 28 or fewer batters in consecutive starts of at least nine innings.
This time the Indians were able to supply some offense for Kluber. Hernandez was perfect through four, but he walked Carlos Santana to start the fifth. Lonnie Chisenhall broke up a no-hit bid with a double to right-center and Nick Swisher loaded the bases when he got on with an infield single after no one was covering first. Santana was forced out at home on a fielder’s choice, but Yan Gomes came through with a one-out double down the right-field line to score Chisenhall and Swisher.
With an 11-6 record and 2.61 ERA, Kluber has been the ace for most of the season, but with Masterson no longer part of the roster all eyes will be on him now to live up to it.
"We’re really looking for him to be a leader now that Masty is gone. There’s a big void to fill there and I think Kluber is that guy," pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. "There is a little part of me that thinks he pitched like that (tonight) because he knows he is going to step up and do what he needs to do to lead that staff."
Masterson though was still on the player’s minds during the game. They wore their socks up in honor of their former teammate as they took the field. Nobody told Kluber though until 15 minutes before the game when he had to make a quick change in the clubhouse.
Gomes added that seeing Masterson in the clubhouse made for a tough day because of what he meant on and off the field.
When asked what kind of effect Masterson had on him, Kluber said it was more than he let him know.
"Hopefully, I can pass along as much information as he’s given me," Kluber said. "I think we all feel a little more responsibility to lead now. Obviously he was viewed as the quote ‘leader of the staff’ now I think we all gotta do a little more."
Hernandez ended up going seven innings, allowing the two runs on four hits with two walks and five strikeouts. He set a major league record by making his 14th straight start in which he pitched seven or more innings and allowing two or fewer runs. Tom Seaver did it in 13 straight starts for the Mets in 1971.