Cleveland Indians players assure that Corey Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young winner from Coppell High, actually smiles and cuts up with his teammates.
But there is a reason he is called “Klubot.” He usually wears a straight face, more befitting of Joe Friday or a poker player, whether he’s on the field or just hanging out.
“He’s a robot,” Indians outfielder David Murphy said.
Hey, whatever works. No one in the visiting clubhouse at Globe Life Park this weekend wants to change Kluber, especially after he flashed his brilliance Wednesday during an epic mound performance.
The right-hander struck out 18 and allowed one hit in eight innings, making the National League Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals look hapless at the plate. The Cardinals were leading the NL in batting average entering the game.
Kluber tied the club mark for strikeouts in a nine-inning game, set by Bob Feller in 1938, and Feller’s career turned out OK.
There are many more — many, many more — superlatives, wow moments and fun facts about the performance, but this one might top all others: Kluber was 0-5 with a 5.04 ERA entering the start and the Indians were 0-7 in his games.
“I think the bigger thing for me was that the team got the win and we were finally able to come out with a win in a game I started,” Kluber said. “That was by far the biggest thing.”
The traditional numbers, as is often the case, didn’t tell the whole story. While he wasn’t pitching at a Cy Young level, many of the advanced metrics showed he wasn’t pitching like a No. 5 starter, either.
“That stuff can sometimes not totally reflect the way you’ve been pitching,” said Kluber, who signed a five-year, $38.5 million extension before the season. “Whether it be one bad inning that inflated some stuff, but I didn’t think I had been pitching that poorly.”
He doesn’t walk anybody or give up home runs. Take away the 18 strikeouts, and he would still be among the league leaders in strikeouts and strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Kluber really doesn’t want to be a strikeout pitcher, even though he is after finishing second in the AL last season with 269 in 235 2/3 innings and the whole 18-in-eight-inning thing Wednesday.
“If I could throw a complete game on 27 pitches, that would be fine with me,” said Kluber, who edged Felix Hernandez for the 2014 Cy Young Award.
Kluber allowed only two runs apiece in his first three starts, losing one of them. But he struggled over his next four, blaming one big inning as his downfall. He was right, with crooked numbers getting him at some point in each of his next four starts.
“We’ve always been in games that he’s started,” Murphy said.
The only thing Kluber felt was different Wednesday from the rest of his starts was better command of his pitches. He dismissed the idea that Central foes are catching up to him after seeing him so often the past three seasons, countering with “the pitchers get reports on hitters as well.”
Nevertheless, five of his eight starts and three of his five losses have been against divisional opponents.
It also couldn’t have been too comfortable knowing that he was only the third reigning Cy Young winner to go winless in his first seven starts, joining Frank Viola in 1989 and Zack Greinke in 2010. Right?
“No,” said Kluber, who no longer lives in Texas. “I knew that if I kept doing what I needed to do when I went out there, things would turn around.”
The fact is that Kluber is pitching for the second-worst team in the AL. The 18-strikeout performance might not serve as a jump-start for the 29-year-old Kluber, but maybe it will for the Indians
They need something to get them going.
Most of their pitching numbers rank in the bottom third of the league, despite nice contributions from Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer, and their offense isn’t any better. If not for the hot-hitting Jason Kipnis and WAR-machine Michael Brantley, the Indians would be lucky to generate any offense, their performance Friday against the Texas Rangers notwithstanding.
Their woes haven’t been too dissimilar from the Rangers’ April problems. If the Indians got a good performance from their starting pitcher, their offense didn’t click or the bullpen broke down. If their offense was rolling, the pitching wasn’t good enough.
The Indians have been bad enough to contribute to the AL Cy Young winner looking awfully ordinary at times. The Klubot, though, isn’t terribly worried, not that his stoic demeanor would ever let anyone know otherwise.
“For the most part, he’s just straight-faced,” Murphy said. “That’s just the way he is.”
Hey, whatever works. It’s been working for Kluber this season, even before he wowed last week.
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760
Cardinals: Buoyed by 14-3 record at Busch Stadium.
Dodgers: Only contender in NL West playing as expected.
Royals: Man, can this team hit. Bullpen nearly automatic.
Tigers: A ho-hum week, but these guys are just good.
Astros: Atop AL West thanks to pitching, solid road record.
Rockies: Playing worse than the Denver weather last week.
Brewers: Couldn’t be as bad as April, but still not good.
Indians: Corey Kluber + Rangers = chance for a good week.
Phillies: Good thing they haven’t traded Cole Hamels (eyes rolling).
A’s: Lead season series vs. Rangers, yet are a slighly worse club.