Young pitchers Kluber, McAllister emerging as bright spots of Tribe rotation
CLEVELAND — For a starting rotation that has struggled for most of the season, Corey Kluber provided a big lift with the best outing of his Major League career.
The right-hander threw his first complete game in 41 starts and struck out a career-high 11 as the Indians defeated Kansas City 5-1 on Thursday at Progressive Field to complete a seven-game homestand.
It is the seventh time dating back to 1914 that an Indians pitcher has thrown a complete game with at least 11 strikeouts, no walks and no earned runs but the first since Len Barker’s perfect game on May 15, 1981.
"I think I got a little stronger as the game went. It’s always reassuring as you go deeper into the game to feel like you’re getting better as you go," Kluber said.
It also is the Indians’ first complete game since Justin Masterson did it on June 30, 2013, at Chicago. Masterson has the last four complete games so this is the first since Derek Lowe’s on May 15, 2012, at Minnesota.
Of the 31 batters Kluber faced, he allowed only four hits with no walks. He only got to a three-ball count three times and a full count once, when he struck out Eric Hosmer to begin the fourth.
Kluber threw 101 pitches with 75 being strikes. To show how efficient he was, four of the innings were 10 pitches or less. All but four outs were either strikeouts or ground balls.
"That was really fun to watch. He had everything working. His fastball was going both ways," manager Terry Francona said. "With his location, he worked ahead and threw a ton of strikes. He pounded the zone all day."
There were only two times when Kluber ran into trouble. With two outs, Alcides Escobar and Jarrod Dyson singled but Escobar was out at third by Michael Brantley.
Kansas City scored its lone run in the seventh that was unearned. With two outs, Omar Infante singled and then scored when Nick Swisher had trouble fielding a Mike Moustakas’ grounder that got by him for an error and rolled into the right-field corner. After that, Kluber retired the last seven he faced. With the bullpen logging a lot of innings, none of the relievers were summoned to warm up.
"I think we did a pretty good job of mixing it up," Kluber said. "Yan (Gomes) was really good back there. I think he did a good job of using what he saw the first three games and keeping them off-balance and it seemed like he did a really good job of keeping them guessing on certain pitches."
It was the third quality start in five outings for Kluber, whose month has almost mirrored Justin Masterson’s. There have been some strong starts, like when he went six innings and struck out eight in a win over San Diego on April 8 and five days later at Chicago when he kept the Indians in the game, and then some rocky ones like last Saturday’s against Toronto when Kluber gave up five runs (four earned) in 6 2/3 innings. Masterson has yet to get a decision in four starts but Kluber is 2-2 and saw his ERA go from 5.40 to 3.90.
With the bottom of the rotation with Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco continues to be a work in progress, Zach McAllister’s 3-0 start and some quality outings by Kluber has put Francona a little more at ease.
"All winter long until now we’ve consistently said we can win with those guys (Kluber and McAllister). That’s a pretty big compliment to young pitchers," Francona said.
Kluber and McAllister are the only the Indians starters who have wins. The Tribe’s rotation went into Thursday’s game with the third-worst ERA in the American League. Kluber’s outing lowered it from 4.99 to 4.63.
McAllister, who improved to 3-0 after Monday’s win over Kansas City, has been the Tribe’s most consistent starter with an ERA of 2.28. In his last three starts, McAllister has allowed just three earned runs in 19 2/3 innings with 13 strikeouts and only three walks. He’s currently riding a three-game win streak, the third of his career.
The Indians broke the game open with a five-run fifth keyed by two-run singles from Asdrubal Cabrera and David Murphy. For Murphy, it was the second time in five games he has delivered a key hit by having lacing a hit to the opposite field and down the right-field line. He had a three-run double in Sunday’s win over Toronto. Up until the fifth, Kansas City’s Bruce Chen had allowed only hit and retired 11 straight.
With Thursday’s victory, the Indians took three of four from Kansas City and went 4-3 on the homestand. They now head out west for a pair of three-game series against the Giants and Angels.