The Cleveland Indians ended speculation on Saturday when they announced that Corey Kluber will be the Opening Day starter of the 2019 season next Thursday in Minneapolis.
This will mark Kluber’s fifth straight Opening Day start, barring no surprises by the time the Indians do battle with the Twins.
Manager Terry Francona shared with the media on Saturday that part of the decision to wait to unveil their starter was to make sure that nothing unexpected or freak happened after making the announcement. He did emphasize that he felt that there was no wrong decision to make in the debate between Kluber or Bauer as the team’s number one man in the rotation.
“We wanted to make sure nothing happened in Kluber’s start [Friday],” said the Tribe skipper. “Say he got a comebacker or something and he didn’t get stretched out. We had talked to everybody ahead of time just to let them know.”
Pitching coach Carl Willis delivered the news to the two pitchers last week.
It was long believed that the battle for the Opening Day nod would come down to Kluber or Trevor Bauer. The latter, coming off of the best season of his big league career, reportedly did not speak to reporters following his final spring start on Saturday evening, but did have to take to social media to address a Cleveland.com headline and story that indicated that the 28-year-old was not happy with the decision.
“For everyone else out there who wants the real story instead of this desperate clickbait BS, I’m not mad at all about Klubes pitching opening day,” Bauer tweeted Saturday evening at the author of the headlining story. “I’m happy for him. He 100% deserves it.”
Bauer will make his regular season debut on Saturday, March 30, in the second game of the series against the Twins.
The right-hander entered his final Cactus League appearance with good overall numbers through five starts, allowing nine runs on 16 hits with two walks and 25 strikeouts over 21 1/3 innings of work (3.80 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP). He allowed four home runs against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday and five runs in total on seven hits, but he struck out seven and lasted six and two-thirds innings in his sixth start to pull off the Tribe’s 8-5 win, improving Cleveland to 16-12-3 (with all three ties coming against the Reds) in spring training action.
Bauer was in line for big time Cy Young Award votes in 2018 when he missed time late in the season with a broken right leg after being struck by a line drive in Chicago. He finished the year with 28 appearances (27 starts), going 12-6 with a 2.21 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP, and 221 strikeouts in 175 1/3 innings of work. He was named midseason to his first American League All-Star team and finished sixth in the Cy voting.
The starting rotation behind Kluber and Bauer will be exactly as it was a season ago, when the Indians utilized a record-setting staff of strikeout artists. Carlos Carrasco will make the third start of the season in the series finale from Minnesota next Sunday, with Mike Clevinger serving as the Indians’ starter for their Home Opener on Monday, April 1, at 4:10 PM ET. Shane Bieber will conclude their first series with the White Sox with a 1:10 PM ET start against Chicago on Wednesday, April 3, before the Toronto Blue Jays come to town for four straight.
Kluber’s start on Friday was just his third of the spring. The team opted to take a conservative approach with members of the pitching staff, including Kluber, Carrasco, and Clevinger, and used them in simulated games at the Goodyear training complex instead of in live action in Cactus League games, allowing the team and the player to operate in a more controlled setting.
In his three Cactus League outings, Kluber went 1-0 with a 7.11 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP in 12 2/3 innings of work. He allowed ten runs, including a grand slam, with 14 strikeouts and four walks against 58 total hitters. He went 20-7 in 33 starts in 2018, posting a 2.89 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP with 222 strikeouts in 215 innings of work. The 32-year-old finished third in the American League Cy Young voting and was named to his third straight AL All-Star team during the year.
With his fifth Opening Day start, Kluber joins select company in franchise history. He will become the first pitcher to make five Opening Day starts for the club since CC Sabathia from 2003 to 2008 (missing just the 2005 opener). Bob Lemon made five in a seven-year span from 1950 to 1956 (he was passed over for Early Wynn in 1952 and 1954).
Kluber will also become just the second pitcher in club history to make five consecutive Opening Day starts, matching the accomplishment of Stan Coveleski, who did so from 1917 to 1921. Kluber’s five starts will tie Coveleski, Lemon, and Sabathia for second-most on the team’s all-time list behind Bob Feller. The legendary ace started seven openers in his career – three straight from 1939 to 1941 (including the only Opening Day no-hitter in Major League Baseball history in 1940) and four more from 1946 to 1949. He missed four straight Opening Day opportunities from 1942 to 1945 while serving in the United States Navy during World War II.
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