Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 28: Corey Kluber

As Did The Tribe Win Last Night helps fans count down the days until the Indians retake the field in an official Major League game, we look back at some of the greats who wore the Cleveland jersey with pride.

Countdown to Opening Day – 28 days

When the Cleveland Indians open their season at Progressive Field in four weeks, the man on the mound for the Tribe is all but assured to be Corey Kluber.

The 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner came to spring training as the ace of what is arguably one of baseball’s top five rotations. Despite a disappointing 9-16 record a year ago, nothing else about the way Kluber pitched in 2015 suggests he is any different from the guy who was voted as the league’s top pitcher just two seasons ago.

Kluber was richly rewarded for taking home the pitching hardware with a five-year contract extension just before the start of last season. The only thing that seemed to really get in the way of Cleveland’s No. 1 starter being in the Cy Young conversation a second straight year was his own offense.

Kluber was near the bottom of the league when it came to run support last season. Otherwise, he may well have come close to a 20-win season instead of closing in on 20 on the wrong side. Nothing about the stats that were in the Klubot’s control suggested much of a drop off from 2014. Nor do they suggest that the organization and Tribe fans should worry about any fall off from the player expected to lead the rotation in 2016.

In 2015, Kluber’s numbers were not as great as his Cy Young campaign, but he continued to maintain his level of excellence that he began to establish the year before his award-winning season, in 2013.

Last year, Kluber sported a solid 3.49 ERA. While not as dominant as the 2.44 of 2014, it was still very good and enough to keep his team in just about every game he pitched. He struck out 245 batters a year ago. It was 25 K’s off of his career-best established the season before. However, he also took the mound two fewer times, thanks to a late-August injury. His 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings was excellent and just a smidgen off the 10.3 from 2014.

In all, despite the down won-loss record, Kluber kept himself in the upper echelon of starting pitchers in 2015. He should remain there as he enters what will be his fourth full Major League season.

The 29-year-old, who will turn 30 on April 10, enjoyed a breakout season in 2013 when he went 11-5 with a 3.85 ERA in 26 games (24 starts). He was a key figure in Cleveland’s march to an AL Wild Card berth.

Kluber came a bit out of nowhere that year, as he seemingly has done his whole career. He was a 2007 fourth-round draft choice for the San Diego Padres, meaning he was not a sure thing for greatness entering the big leagues. He was traded to the Cleveland Indians in a smallish three-team trade deadline deal, in which the biggest name was Indians pitcher Jake Westbrook going to the St. Louis Cardinals.

The little-known Kluber began his Tribe career slowly, with 15 less-than-stellar appearances between 2011 and 2012, so his strong 3.85 ERA came as a bit of a shock. His follow-up Cy season was even more of a surprise. There were still some doubters after the impressive year Kluber had, wondering if it was a fluke and if he really was an ace-like pitcher. After a third consecutive strong season, any doubts should be put to bed. Kluber is the real deal.

Under team control through the 2021 season, Kluber could remain at the top of the Indians’ talented rotation for years to come. The typically serious, when on the mound, Kluber is actually a perfect fit to lead the club’s strong depth of starting pitchers. His demeanor is that of a guy who does not let anything bother him when he is pitching. He does not get over excited about a big strkeout, nor does he get down about allowing a home run. He stays even keel and, in the end, usually comes out on the stronger side of things when opposing a batter.

Of course, it helps Kluber’s demeanor knowing that if he does falter in a game or two, it is not the end of the world. A Kluber loss does not spell doom or a coming losing streak for the Tribe. Right behind the Indians ace are Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, who could both be No. 1 hurlers on other teams. Trevor Bauer, Cody Anderson and Josh Tomlin round out a rotation that actually has six starters who would be near shoe-ins for Opening Day roster spots, where in Cleveland someone will find himself pitching in Columbus when Arpil 4 rolls around.

Kluber is off to a good start this spring and looks to still have that form that has made him a consistently good pitcher for three years running. Every time he pitches, the team knows it has a good shot of winning, with just a little run support. That will be the key towards getting Kluber’s win total back on track – scoring a few runs against what usually will be the other squad’s ace.

Kluber is likely to again control what he can control, whether or not he is getting run support. That is most important for the Indians. As long as their ace maintains his own strong level, the individual wins will come. That means the team wins will come and that will go a long way toward getting the Tribe back in the postseason for the first time in two years.

Just think, if the Indians offense had given Kluber just a bit more support last year and won even a handful of the games they should have won rather than losing them, the club may have been right back in the Wild Card. Fluky numbers like lack of run support do not often carry over from year to year. That gives hope that Kluber and the Tribe may just indeed enjoy a little more winning and some more success in 2016.

Photo: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

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