Covering the Bases: Game 140

MLB: Cleveland Indians-Photo DayFinal: Indians 3, White Sox 1

FIRST: The Indians ran some anti-virus software through the Klubot Operating System over the past few days and cleaned out all the bugs. On Saturday night against the White Sox, Corey Kluber was back to his robotic, precision-based ways for Cleveland.

Said White Sox manager Robin Ventura: “He goes deep in the game. He works quick. He doesn’t seem to get rattled.”

Classic Klubot.

Following a stretch of rough starts — well, giving up eight earned runs in 16 innings seemed “rough” in light of the 1.43 ERA he turned in in his previous dozen outings — Kluber regained his form on the mound. The righty did make a slight mechanical tweak between outings.

After his last start, in which Kluber gave up five runs (two earned) and threw 57 pitches in 2 2/3 innings against Detroit, he went to work with pitching coach Mickey Callaway. They found that Kluber had been collapsing a bit on his back leg, throwing off his release point and, in turn, affecting the location on his pitches (especially to his glove side).

How involved was the process of fixing this issue?

“We talked about it for about 15 seconds,” Callaway said. “And then he went and did it.”

Ho hum. It’s just that easy.

“It wasn’t anything major,” Kluber said. “It took maybe a handful of pitches to get that feeling back to what we were looking for. We went out there tonight and it wasn’t like I was searching or anything. It felt normal and comfortable.”

In his third complete game of the season, Kluber created 14 outs via ground balls, collected eight strikeouts, scattered five hits and issued no walks. He finished with a Game Score of 83, marking his fifth outing with at least that high of a Game Score this season. That is the best among all Major League pitchers. Some guy named Clayton Kershaw ranks second with four.

After his previous two starts, Kluber was asked if he was feeling fatigued at all, considering he was approaching 200 innings for the first time in his career. That topic didn’t sit well with the pitcher, who was short with reporters after his abbreviated loss to Detroit. Well, Kluber seems to have answered those questions just fine with his arm and nine innings against the White Sox.

“His tank looks like it’s as full as it’s ever been,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.

Kluber now has 223 strikeout, moving him past Luis Tiant (219 in 1967) and Gaylord Perry (216 in 1974) for 17th place on Cleveland’s all-time single-season strikeout list. Next up: 225 by Sam McDowell in 1966. Kluber also joined McDowell (six times), Bob Feller (five), Perry (twice), Herb Score (twice) and Tiant as the only Indians pitchers to have a season with at least 220 punchouts.

SECOND: Kluber’s start got off to an interesting start. Against the first nine hitters he faced, the right-hander stayed exclusively within the fastball family. His first 27 pitches were two-seam sinkers before he finally fired an 88-mph cutter to Tyler Flowers, the last hitter in Chicago’s lineup. It wasn’t until his 31st pitch (against the 10th batter he faced) that Kluber showed off his slider.

Callaway said early strategy was a credit to catcher Yan Gomes.

“That’s what was Gomer was calling,” Callaway said. “Kluber’s going to stick with Gomer. I asked him about that when we were walking up the ramp. I said, ‘Did you try to go first nine guys all fastballs?’ He was like, ‘Maybe that was Gomer’s plan. I just kind of threw what Gomer called.'”

It worked. Through the first three innings, Kluber had just two strikeouts, but he created 8 outs on the ground. One more would-be groundout in that span turned into an error (by rookie first baseman Jesus Aguilar) and unearned run. From the fifth through the ninth innings, Kluber began to work his cutter and slider in more often, striking out six in that span.

“Any time you can do that and establish your fastball like that,” Callaway said, “you don’t give away your good stuff. If you can get through three innings with your fastball, you should do it every time. Establish your fastball. Establish that fastball command. Make them really respect that. Then, your offspeed stuff is going to be dominant the rest of the game. That’s kind of what we saw.”

In terms of efficiency, Kluber threw 71-percent strikes (74-of-104) and generated 19 outs on three or fewer pitches. He had 24 at-bats end in three pitches or fewer, and 11 at-bats end on two or fewer pitches.

Kluber was also extremely successful against White Sox slugger Jose Abreu, who entered the game sporting a robust .462 average off the pitcher in 13 at-bats. In their previous meeting, Abreu collected three hits and saw 22 pitches (all sinkers and cutters) in four trips to the plate. This time, Kluber needed only 10 total pitches to get strike Abreu out once and create three groundouts. In that span, Kluber stuck with a similar approach, using his slider just once against the rookie phenom.

“I think it was just a matter of executing,” Kluber said. “Last time I faced him I made some good pitches, but he still got hits off me. That’s one of those things where, certain nights, a hitter that good you can make your pitches and he’s still going to get his hits.”

THIRD: During his daily pregame meeting with reporters, Francona spoke highly of rookie shortstop Jose Ramirez’s growing confidence and steady play since being given a starting role. All Ramirez did then was go 3-for-4 with a stolen base and a run-scoring triple that broke open a 1-1 deadlock in the seventh inning.

“He definitely had an affect on the game tonight,” Francona said,

Added Kluber: “He’s been a sparkpug for us. He brings a lot of energy every day. He’s played a great shortstop and he’s gotten more comfortable. He’s starting to do really well at the plate in the two hole. He’s situationally hitting and he’s getting big hits for us.”

Since Aug. 9, when Ramirez’s season average sat at just .174, he has hit at a .326 (28-for-86) clip with six stolen bases, six sac bunts, eight extra-base hits, nine RBIs and 12 runs for the Tribe. Since moving to the No. 2 spot in the lineup on a regular basis on Aug. 16, he’s hit .319 (23-for-72). Overall as the Indians’ second hitter, Ramirez has hit .337 (29-for-86) with five thefts, seven sacs, eight extra-base hits, eight RBIs and 12 runs.

HOME: Two more things should not go unnoticed from Saturday’s game. First, center fielder Michael Bourn made an impressive running, diving catch to rob Adam Eaton of a would-be RBI hit in the fifth inning. The catch ended the inning with an exclamation point, stranding runners on first and second base for Chicago with the game in a 1-1 tie.

“That was big,” Francona said. “That was really big, because that ball looked like it was in no-man’s land and he kind of came out of nowhere.”

It should also be noted that Carlos Santana hit his third homer in a span of six games (and fourth in his past nine contests). He leads the Indians with 25 long balls this season. He also drew a walk, giving him an American League-high 99 free passes this season. One more walk will put Santana in an exclusive group of Indians hitters, too.

Over the past 100 seasons, only Travis Hafner (2006), Jim Thome (six times, most recently in 2002), Andre Thornton (1982) and Al Rosen (1950) enjoyed a season with at least 25 homers and 100 walks for the Indians. Over the past five years, here are the only Major Leagues to accomplish the feat: Mike Trout (2013), Adam Dunn (2012), Miguel Cabrera (2011) and Jose Bautista (2011 and 2010).

On deck:

White Sox (63-78) at Indians (73-67)
at 1:05 p.m. ET Sunday at Progressive Field

–JB

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