Average prospect, Kluber on way to Cy
CLEVELAND - In May 2012, the Big Ten baseball tournament at Huntington Park in Columbus, Ohio, forced the Class AAA Columbus Clippers to move Corey Kluber's regular bullpen session to the indoor mound below the stands of their home stadium. And there, hidden from the daylight, on another mundane day in another unspectacular season for another unmemorable right-handed minorleague pitcher, Kluber, then 26, heard these fateful words from his pitching coach:
“We want you to try throwing a twoseamer.”
Ruben Niebla, the pitching coach, showed Kluber his preferred two-seam fastball grip, and, Niebla recalled this week, Kluber's first try with the new pitch swept through the strike zone. Do it again, Niebla told Kluber. “And he did it again.” Now try throwing it to the catcher's glove-side, Niebla told him. “And he dotted it on the corner.”
Two days later In Syracuse, when Kluber made his next start, the new pitch was part of his repertoire. By the end of Kluber's 62/3-inning performance in a 7-1 win, Niebla sidled up to Clippers Manager Mike Sarbaugh and said, “We might have something here. I think Corey is really figuring it out.”
By August 2012, the Cleveland Indians had called Kluber - with his career minor-league record of 45-50 and ERA of 4.40 - up to the big leagues.
By midseason of 2013, he was an established part of the Indians' rotation.
By the end of 2014, he was the
“With the different grip, aside from having more action on it, it helped me to command it better to both sides of the plate. And obviously, that's one of the keys to anyone's success.”
– Indians pitcher Corey Kluber
American League Cy Young Award winner.
By the end of 2016, he was a folk hero in Cleveland, after starting on short rest three times during the Indians' memorable run to the World Series.
And by the time he takes the mound for his next start Sunday, Kluber, 31, will have been a central figure in the most dominant stretch of baseball any team has compiled in more than 100 years - with the Indians entering the weekend having won a major-league record 22 straight games. (The 1916 New York Giants won 26 straight, recognized in some corners as the official record, but the Giants' streak included a tie.)
Though he was also the last Indians pitcher to suffer a loss before the launch of the streak - a 6-1 defeat to Boston on Aug. 23 - he has been virtually untouchable during its course, going 40 with a 1.41 ERA and 35 strikeouts against two walks in 32 innings, while limiting opposing hitters to a .170/.184/.304 slash line. Since coming off the disabled list June 1, he has gone 13-4 with a 1.77 ERA and may have caught, if not surpassed, Boston's Chris Sale in the AL Cy Young race.
“He's one of the best in the game,” Detroit Manager Brad Ausmus said Tuesday night, after Kluber dominated the Tigers in a shutout that included eight strikeouts and no walks. “He's got four pitches, and they all look the same coming out of his hand. He's very methodical. He's got good command. He doesn't walk many people, and he's just got outstanding stuff.”
That win over the Tigers pushed the Indians' winning streak to 20, tying the 2002 Oakland A's for the AL record. But when the final out was in the first baseman's glove, and his joyous teammates gathered in small groups to celebrate, the man known as “Klubot” - for his stoic, robotic demeanor - merely took a few steps toward his catcher, to shake his hand, and never once cracked the slightest smile.
Kluber's work ethic and betweenstarts preparation are legendary around the Indians, to the point where the team has assigned a group of its youngest prospects to follow him around for a few days to do nothing but observe him. Those traits are ones he has possessed as far back as anyone can remember.
“He's not a very loud guy,” Indians Manager Terry Francona said. “But his leading by example is impeccable.