The Cleveland Indians open the 2014 season with new expectations despite many questions. The Indians’ 25-man roster will look different than the group that won 92 games and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Tampa Bay Rays. While the roster may change and the expectations grow, Cleveland will need answer many questions this spring before opening the season in Oakland on March 31. Today, we look at one of the Indians’ players who will be in a new role this season than they were in 2013.
One of many highlights to the 2013 Cleveland Indians season was the emergence of Corey Kluber in the starting rotation.
Kluber was the odd man out for the fifth spot in a crowded rotation mix after the club added veterans Brett Myers and Scott Kazmir following the 2012 season. They joined Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Zach McAllister, leaving little room for the inexperienced pitcher to maneuver.
Kluber started the year in Columbus, getting a win in his first start of the season, before being recalled for a depleted rotation that used starters Carlos Carrasco and Myers in the same game. Carrasco was ejected in the fourth inning of his first game since 2011 after throwing at New York’s Kevin Youkilis and the next day’s starter, Myers, jumped into the game and was hit hard on the way to a 14-1 loss.
Bad weather in Cleveland shortened the series with the Yankees and Kluber’s services were no longer needed. He went back to Columbus on April 12th, replaced by Nick Hagadone on the roster, and made a start for the Clippers on the 14th. He lasted six and one-third innings against the Indianapolis Indians and struck out eight, but allowed six earned runs on eight hits. Even though the outing was rocky, the Indians needed bullpen depth with Matt Albers out on the paternity list and the injury to Michael Bourn opened up a spot for Kluber’s arm.
After getting a pair of relief appearances in with the club, including four innings of scoreless two-hit relief of Kazmir in a 19-6 win over the Houston Astros, he earned the chance to fill the spot of an ineffective and injured Myers and, once in the rotation, he would not let go of his grasp of it.
The transition did not come without its obstacles, especially in May. He was tagged for losses in three of his six starts in the month and had a 5.17 ERA. He averaged just under six innings in each start and allowed three earned runs or less in all but one, a 10-4 loss in Detroit when he allowed eight runs on eleven hits in four and two-thirds innings. In his final start of the month, he had struck out three batters through two innings before being pulled from a game against Tampa Bay due to three different rain delays.
The 27-year-old was locked in after that, posting a 3.09 ERA and a 4-2 record through the first week of August. He had allowed more than four runs in just four of those twelve outings and had struck out eight or more batters four separate occasions. He held Detroit scoreless through seven and one-third innings on August 5th when he left the game injured.
Kluber was diagnosed with a sprained right middle finger, a similar injury to that sustained by McAllister earlier in the season. He injured it throwing a breaking ball just four pitches before he left the game and it was thought to be a potential season-ender for the Tribe’s right-hander.
“It was tough. At the time, it was a point of the year that we were in the middle of a playoff race. It’s kind of worse case scenario, as far as timing goes,” said Kluber at Tribe Fest in January. “It’s one of those things that happens. You can’t really control it. All I could really do was attack the rehab set as best I could and try to get back out there as soon as possible.”
Unlike McAllister, who missed six weeks with his injury, Kluber was back in four, just in time to replace the ailing Masterson in the rotation. He was solid down the stretch for Cleveland, posting wins in four of his final five starts, despite being on a reduced pitch count.
“It was nice to be able to come back and pitch while we were still in the middle of the hunt,” said Kluber. “That was kind of the hardest part about being out because of where we were in positioning and stuff. But to be able to come back and pitch and help contribute to get us to where we got to was nice.”
Kluber ended his 2013 season with an 11-5 record in 26 games, including 24 starts. He logged a career-high 147 1/3 innings on the mound and struck out 136 batters while surrendering just 33 walks.
The Tribe righty made his 2012 debut in August after the team designated Derek Lowe for assignment. He made twelve starts with mixed results and finished the year with a 2-5 record and a 5.14 ERA. Opposing batters hit .295 off of him in 63 innings of work.
He made his Major League debut on September 1st, 2011, in a relief effort. He made three appearances that season, all in relief, and did not factor in a decision. Due to allowing four runs in two innings of work in his last outing of the year, his ERA was 8.31.
Kluber was a fourth round pick by the San Diego Padres in the 2007 draft. He was acquired by Cleveland in 2010 as part of a three-team trade with San Diego and the St. Louis Cardinals. The Indians sent pitcher Jake Westbrook to St. Louis in that deal.
The 2014 Indians starting rotation will have a notably different look than the one that Kluber just missed out on at the start of last season. He will join Masterson and McAllister in the rotation, along with the young Danny Salazar and a yet to be determined starter. On Wednesday, manager Terry Francona announced that Kluber would be the number two pitcher in the rotation.
“I think Corey…is becoming one of the better pitchers in the game,” Francona said Wednesday. “It’s going to be fun to watch him grow.”
While the team looks to replace the production lost by the free agency departures of Kazmir and Jimenez, Kluber does not intend to let that weigh on him on the mound.
“I think it’s a little dangerous when guys start trying to add more pressure to themselves,” said Kluber. “They might start trying to do more than they are capable of. Everybody that is going to be on the team is perfectly capable of going out there and giving us a chance to win. We all just need to pitch within ourselves and not try to overdo it. I think we all have confidence in ourselves and in each other every time we go out there.”
With nearly a full season and almost 150 innings under his belt from last season, Kluber has learned some of what he needs to in order to continually improve his game on the mound.
“I think last year I tried to carry over what I learned from the previous season and the time I spent up here and tried to apply that. Things I needed to work on and things that I was doing well. I’m going to try to take the same approach this year,” said Kluber. “There are obviously both things I did well last year and plenty of things I can still work on. It’s just trying to continually address those weaknesses and try to improve at them, as well as improve on your strengths, too.”
As Kluber enters his fourth Major League season ready to contribute and with a spot secured in the rotation, he knows the goals for the season.
“Goal for the team is probably the same for every year – try to win a championship,” he said. “For myself, try to continually improve and every time I go out there and pitch, try to give the team a chance to win.
“We just need to carry that momentum from last year and carry it forward into this year.”
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer