For the second straight day, the accomplishments of Cleveland Indians starter Corey Kluber on the mound were recognized by Major League Baseball, as one day after being named to his second career All-Star team, he was named the American League’s Pitcher of the Month on Monday for his work in June.
Aces put their teams on their backs and carry them when they need it the most. Kluber missed nearly a full month on the disabled list while dealing with a lower back strain, but there was no sign of rust when he returned to the Major League mound on June 1 for his first of six starts in the month. He dominated the Oakland Athletics in that outing and would do the same to the rest of the competition that he saw throughout the third month of the MLB calendar. He was joined by Washington’s Max Scherzer as the National League’s recipient of the Pitcher of the Month honor.
The 31-year-old Kluber compiled a stellar 4-0 record in his half-dozen outings, posting a 1.26 ERA and a 0.67 WHIP in 43 innings of work. The right-hander struck out 64 of the 156 batters that he faced, good for a season-high 13.4 strikeouts per nine innings. He walked just seven and gave up 22 hits in total while allowing eight runs (just six of which were earned). Opposing hitters batted just .150 against him.
In his first start off of the shelf, he threw just 77 pitches, but he got through six full innings with them. Just three of the 20 batters that he faced reached base, allowing a pair of singles and a walk while matching his season-high with ten strikeouts. He hit the ground running in his first action since May 2, striking out five straight batters after a first pitch pop-up to start the game. Two of the base runners that he allowed came in a tough third, when former Indians outfielder Rajai Davis singled with one out and stole second before a two-out walk from Matthew Joyce. After a strikeout to end the inning, the Indians gave him the lead and he would allow just one more hit in his quality start, a leadoff single in the sixth that was erased on a strikeout/caught stealing to the next batter. He fittingly struck out the final batter that he faced before solid work from the bullpen secured the 8-0 win.
Kluber made his second straight home start on June 9 as the Tribe hosted the Chicago White Sox. He was not unhittable and did not escape the outing unscathed, but he gave the Indians a quality start again and did his job on the mound. He allowed three runs on seven hits, walked a pair, and struck out eight while using 98 pitches to get through the game.
He was back on the mound for a third straight game at Progressive Field as the Indians welcomed in the Los Angeles Dodgers for a rare trip to Cleveland. The Indians would lose the game, but it was of little fault of his own as he worked seven innings of two-run baseball, allowing four hits and a walk, hitting one batter, and striking out ten again.
Kluber’s best start of the month very well could have been five days later in his lone road start of his six June appearances. He blanked the Baltimore Orioles for nine innings in a three-hit shutout, giving up just three singles while striking out a new season-high eleven batters. All three hits came with two outs (in the first, sixth, and eighth innings) and none of the base runners would advance beyond first base. He struck out batters in seven of his nine innings and ended the ball game with three straight swinging strikeouts in the 12-0 blowout. The complete game shutout was his second of the season.
Had it not been for his defense’s failures around him in his next start on June 24 at Progressive Field against the Minnesota Twins, he may have flirted with an even better outing. As it stood, a pair of first inning runs courtesy of a first batter error by Jason Kipnis and a throwing error on a pickoff attempt by Yan Gomes put the Twins in front early. He struck out four straight batters, beginning with the final hitter of the first and the side in the second. He added two more Ks in both the third and fourth innings and notched another in the fifth and sixth. He ended his outing with back-to-back strikeouts in the seventh and left with his club trailing 2-1. The Indians tied the game on an error in the bottom of the inning to get him off the hook for a tough loss, but Brian Dozier and Chris Gimenez homered in the next two frames to give Minnesota a 4-2 win.
Kluber finished the game with seven quality innings logged, giving up two unearned runs on three hits with a pair of walks and a season-high 13 strikeouts in the no-decision.
In his fifth start at home in his last six outings, Kluber was opposed by the visiting Texas Rangers, a team that hit him hard in his first start of the season. This time, Kluber got the better of them by holding them to just three hits and a walk while striking out a dozen more batters in the 5-1 win. He lasted eight innings and threw a season-high 111 pitches, with the lone blemish a first inning home run by Nomar Mazara. He struck out two before the homer and added three more early whiffs around a second inning leadoff single and two stolen bases. He struck out two more batters in each of the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings before ending another outing with an eighth inning caught looking.
His impressive month included six straight quality starts. He moved into a tenth place on the Indians’ all-time strikeout list, tied with Luis Tiant at 1,041. His 64 strikeouts in a month had been accomplished just 12 other times in Indians history (seven times by Sam McDowell and five times by Bob Feller). He joined Feller as the only Indians pitcher to ever have four consecutive starts with ten strikeouts or more and became the only Cleveland pitcher to do so in one season (Feller’s feat was broken up between the 1938 and 1939 seasons).
He was at the top of the MLB leaderboard in many pitching statistics for the month. His 1.26 ERA was tops among league starters (and second to Scherzer’s 0.99 in all of baseball). He led baseball in innings pitched (with two more than Kansas City’s All-Star Jason Vargas). His 0.67 WHIP was tops in the AL and second again to Scherzer for the MLB lead (0.55), with Tampa rookie hurler Jacob Faria and Boston All-Star Chris Sale next to Kluber in the league with a 0.90. His 64 strikeouts were seven more than the next closest pitcher, Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw.
His June award marks his third career Pitcher of the Month Award, joining his efforts in September of 2014 and August of 2016. He has also been named a Player of the Week on three separate occasions, including last Monday.
Kluber is scheduled to make his 13th start of the season on Tuesday night against the San Diego Padres, a game that could have some extra significance for the Tribe hurler. He was selected by the Padres in the fourth round of the 2007 draft out of Stetson, but the team dealt him to Cleveland in 2010 as part of the three-team trade that sent Indians starter Jake Westbrook to St. Louis.
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