Corey Kluber is searching for the consistency that made him a trusted cog in the Cleveland rotation last season.
He hasn’t found his form quite as easily this season, but he’ll attempt to re-establish himself Thursday at home as the Indians try to take three of four from the Kansas City Royals.
Kluber (1-2, 5.40 ERA), who didn’t lose over his final 12 starts of 2013, has been quite hittable so far this year. Opponents are batting .337 and his WHIP has spiked from 1.26 last season to 1.71 through four starts.
The right-hander allowed four earned runs on nine hits and walked three in 6 2-3 innings of Saturday’s 5-0 home loss to Toronto.
"I just didn’t execute pitches very well," Kluber told the team’s official website.
That wasn’t the case last season against the Royals as Kluber went 2-0 with a 3.28 ERA in four starts against them.
Beyond Kluber, the starting staff has been a problem for the Indians (10-11), whose 4.99 ERA is among the worst in the American League, though the bullpen’s 2.74 is among the best.
Cleveland got 2 2-3 innings of scoreless relief in Wednesday’s 5-3 victory over the Royals (10-10) that was its third in four games since dropping seven of nine.
Jason Kipnis’ RBI double in the seventh ended up being the difference, and though he’s batting just .243 after signing a six-year, $52.5 million contract on opening day, his production has been considerably better than his .200 average in April a season ago.
"I think he has less far to climb this year," manager Terry Francona said. "He really dug himself a hole last year. He’s always a threat, whether it’s against a left-hander or right-hander."
Kipnis is 4 for 13 with three RBIs in the series to help the Indians start turning things around offensively. They’ve managed 31 hits through the first three games after posting a .236 batting average in 18 games before welcoming Kansas City to town.
They’ll try to continue hitting against Bruce Chen, who has allowed 10 runs in 8 2-3 innings over his last two starts.
His last time out, Chen (1-1, 6.60) earned the win in Saturday’s 5-4 victory over Minnesota despite allowing four earned runs on eight hits and four walks in five innings.
The veteran went 1-0 with a 1.04 ERA in two starts and three relief outings against the Indians a season ago.
Cleveland left fielder Michael Brantley, however, is 10 for 19 lifetime against Chen, while recently activated designated hitter Jason Giambi is 6 for 16 with four home runs.
Carlos Santana is 5 for 16 against Chen, which are rather warming numbers given his current slump. Santana went 0 for 3 Wednesday and is 3 for 47 with 15 strikeouts in his last 13 games.
Limiting the Indians’ bats could be key for the Royals, who are establishing a trend in terms of what their own lineup is able to overcome. Kansas City is 0-10 when scoring fewer than four runs and 10-0 when it pushes at least four across.
Royals catcher Salvador Perez and third baseman Mike Moustakas hit back-to-back home runs in the second inning Wednesday, but the Royals weren’t able to add much more.
"It was nice to get the back-to-back homers," manager Ned Yost said. "But they came right back. They found ways to score."
Perez interrupted a 0-for-21 slump, while Moustakas – who is 6 for 12 against Kluber – homered for a second straight game.
Indians center fielder Michael Bourn is 6 for 14 in the series.