Covering the Bases: Game 64

611KluberFinal: Indians 5, Rangers 2

FIRST: The covering-the-bases curse has been lifted. The Indians went 0-7 after I brought CTB back to this space, making me wonder if I’d soon have my press credentials revoked. Well, thanks to Corey Kluber, the Indians are back in the win column after an eight-game losing streak.

Kluber was stellar in leading Cleveland to this victory over Texas.

Pitching roughly a half-hour drive from where he grew up (in Coppell, Texas), Kluber held the Rangers to one run on six hits over eight innings. The right-hander became the first Indians pitcher since July 20, 2007 (Roberto Hernandez) to hold Texas to one or zero runs in at least eight innings in a game in Arlington.

Kluber did so by straying some from the approach that has worked so well lately. He said that, before the game, he and catcher Yan Gomes discussed how aggressive Texas’ hitters can be early in the count. With that in mind, Kluber tried to force the Rangers to expand the strike zone early in counts in an effort to induce soft contact. The strategy worked.

“We kind of talked about how they’re a really aggressive team,” Kluber said. “We kind of used that against them.”

Kluber was able to create 14 outs via ground balls, including 10 before the end of the fourth. He had never topped nine groundball outs in any previous outing in his career. Kluber also breezed through the first five innings on just 46 pitches, throwing no more than 10 in each frame to that point. When he was done, Kluber only had three strikeouts on the night.

That was a big change from how Kluber found success recently.

Over his previous five starts, dating back to May 15, Kluber was one of the top strikeout artists in the American League. Consider this list:

Strikeouts per nine innings from May 15-June 10
American League starting pitchers
1. Anibal Sanchez, 11.37 (25.1 IP)
2. Corey Kluber, 11.33 (27 IP)
3. Justin Verlander, 11.30 (28.2 IP)
4. Felix Hernandez, 10.36 (33 IP)
5. Derek Holland, 10.36 (24.1 IP)

That is pretty impressive company.

“He’s getting better right in front of our eyes,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.

On May 10, when Kluber gave up eight runs in 4 2/3 innings against the Tigers, the initial thought was that he was sliding back to some of the missteps he made last season. That rough outing is looking more and more like a fluke. In six turns since that forgettable start, Kluber has posted a 3.09 ERA with 37 strikeouts against six walks in 35 innings. In his 10 appearances other than the May 10 start, he has a 3.08 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP, 53 strikeouts and 10 walks in 52 2/3 innings.

What’s going on with this guy?

“Gaining confidence every time out is big,” Kluber said. “I don’t know if I could pinpoint one thing other than that.”

SECOND: It goes without saying that defense is integral on a night when the pitcher is inducing as much contact as Kluber was against the Rangers. The infielders were on their toes and active, making a series of solid plays. The biggest defensive play of the night, however, was a teaming of left fielder Michael Brantley and third baseman Mark Reynolds for a key double play.

In the sixth inning, with the Tribe holding a 4-0 lead, Kluber got off on the wrong foot with back-to-back walks to Leury Garcia and Elvis Andrus. David Murphy followed by slicing a pitch to left field. It was deep enough for Garcia to tag up at second base in preparation for a sprint to third base. Brantley caught the ball and quickly fired it to Reynolds at third.

Reynolds swiftly applied the tag for a crucial double play.

“That was big,” Reynolds said. “I think that kind of took a little wind out of their sails. Brant made a good throw. It was a big play. As I caught the ball, he was sliding into my glove. I’m just glad I held on to it.”

Kluber ended the inning by inducing a groundout off the bat of Lance Berkman.

THIRD: As much heat as Reynolds has been taking lately for his offensive shortcomings, it’s fair to point out that he went 2-for-4 tonight with a pair of singles, including one that knocked in a run in the fourth inning. That represented his first RBI since May 29. Both hits were pushed to the opposite field. Hopefully the performance was a sign that Reynolds is starting to snap out of his funk. Late in the game, he was replaced at third by veteran John McDonald. In late innings of a tight ballgame, having a defensive specialist like Johnny Mac on the bench certainly doesn’t hurt.

HOME: The Indians only went 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position, but it’s hard to nitpick after a game that snapped an eight-game skid. Cleveland did have at least one hit from each member of its starting lineup for the fifth time this season. That put constant pressure on the Rangers and gave the Indians ample chances to finally snap out of their funk.

“We just played a nice ballgame,” Francona said. “We kept the line moving at the plate, we ran the bases aggressively and because of that, you get to hear some music. That’s a welcomed sound.”

ON DECK:

Indians (31-33) at Rangers (38-26)
at 8:05 p.m. ET on Wednesday at Rangers Ballpark

–JB

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