Kluber’s gem spoiled by lack of run support
HOUSTON — If anyone was worried about Corey Kluber putting more pressure on himself after winning a Cy Young Award and getting a five-year extension, Monday’s Opening Night start against Houston should put those fears at rest.
Kluber held the Astros without a hit for 5 2/3 innings but on a night when the Tribe was able to do nothing offensively all three hits he gave up ended up looming large in a 2-0 loss.
While it was Kluber’s first start in an opener, it continues a trend that Justin Masterson knew only too well the past three years — a great performance doesn’t translate into a win unless you get help.
On a night when Houston made every hit count, the Indians did not and were blanked in an opener for the first time since 2010.
"I don’t think it is any more satisfying pitching well and losing. It would be more satisfying being 1-0 than 0-1. You don’t take moral victories," said Kluber, who allowed two runs on three hits in 7 1/3 innings with two walks and seven strikeouts.
The Indians also aren’t going to get victories that count if their penchant for struggling against left-handers continues. Last year they had a 25-25 record against lefty starters and batted .252, which was 18th in the majors. Houston’s Dallas Keuchel held the Tribe to three hits and walked two while striking out four.
With three lefties at the top of the order, Michael Bourn, Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley were 0-for-12. Ryan Raburn, who was the designated hitter with a left-hander starting, was 0-for-3 including a grounder to the pitcher with runners in scoring position in the seventh.
"We’re going to have to work at it. If I was a team, I would throw a lefty too," manager Terry Francona said. "On a lot of nights we’re saying he had a great game, and it was a win but their guy was good too."
Luckily for the Tribe, they get right-handers for the remaining two games in Houston.
In his last start at Minute Maid Park, Kluber struck out 14. He was on his way to one-upping that as he was jamming the Astros early. The only time before the sixth where Houston appeared as if they might get to the right-hander was when Chris Carter hit a deep drive to right-center that Brandon Moss caught at the warning track in the fifth. Had that ball been hit another 5-10 feet left, it would have been gone.
The Astros did try to be aggressive early as two of the first five hitters made contact on the first pitch. Kluber didn’t get his first strikeout until Jason Castro at the end of the second but from there he struck out four of the next eight.
"It was exciting. We were crisscrossing guys like last year," catcher Yan Gomes said. "Just one of those things where it was the game to watch and see how he bounced back from last year. It was good to see."
Kluber said he knew in the sixth that he hadn’t allowed a hit but at that point was more focused on the task at hand. At that point, the Indians had only one hit on a Lonnie Chisenhall single in the third.
"There were still a lot of hitters at that point," Kluber said. "I was aware of it but I wasn’t pitching to give up a hit. I was pitching to keep them off the scoreboard."
With two outs in the sixth, Kluber gave up a bloop single to center by reigning AL batting champion Jose Altuve, who then stole second and scored on a George Springer single to left.
Springer’s single came on a 1-2 breaking ball that was left just up enough for him to get contact.
"It’s fun to have those types of pitching battles (like matching Keuchel) but it is more about focusing on the situation that we’re in. In a close game there is a premium on every pitch," Kluber said.
The Astros added one more in the eighth on a Jake Marisnick sacrifice fly. Kluber departed with one out in the eighth after allowing a Jed Lowrie walk and a Colby Rasmus single after he said he lost a little bit of his fastball command late.
Coming into the opener, Kluber said that he wasn’t putting any added pressure on this start compared to the others. Which is good since his next start will be this weekend against Detroit.