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Second Thoughts Game #22: Royals 1, Indians 5

Kluber tosses complete-game gem as Indians win series

Second Thoughts Game #22: Royals 1, Indians 5
Corey Kluber pitches the first complete game of his big league career against the Royals. (Photo: Chuck Crow)
April 25, 2014
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Be forewarned, this analysis will be giving a lot of love to Indians right-hander Corey Kluber as he tossed his first big league complete game against the Royals on Thursday during the midday finale of the four-game set.

Tribe hitters also finally managed to break through that wall that Royals lefty Bruce Chen has built up against them over the last couple seasons. In the fifth inning, as they plated five runs on five hits and a walk off Chen to knock him out of the game after only four and a third innings of work.

Player of the Game: Corey Kluber (9 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 11 K).

Last season Corey Kluber flirted with a complete game on several occasions, but always came up just short. On Thursday April 24th, 2014, he finally finished the job he started against the Royals with nine innings of dominant and stress-free innings allowing only four base runners via hits and one unearned run. A misplayed grounder at first base by Nick Swisher in the eighth inning spoiled what could've been a shutout.

The 28-year-old right-hander had just about everything working perfectly on the mound as he was able to command and locate all four of his pitches and keep hitters off balance for the majority of the day as all four hits he gave up were singles and 24 of the 27 outs he recorded were either strikeouts or groundouts.

What was different for Kluber on Thursday compared to, say, his first start of the year was the fact that he was not only able to establish his fastball and throw it for strikes, but he was able to spot his cutter, slider and breaking ball for strikes and get swings and misses just about every time he threw them. Now, he's not likely to have that impeccable command during every start, but I would bet he could still pitch a quality start with just half of it.

Another interesting element about Kluber's gem that has started to become a trend with him is his ablility to work quickly and conserve his pitch count when he is really on his game. In his complete game effort, he only used 101 pitches even while recording a career-high 11 strikeouts. We have seen this already this season in his start against the White Sox where he pitched into the eighth inning and didn't even eclipse 100 pitches. It's also happened on a few occasions last season prior to his injury.

  • Against the Royals (4/28): 7.0 IP, 2 R/ER, 97 pitches.
  • Against the Rangers (6/11): 8.0 IP, 1 R/ER, 104 pitches.
  • Against the White Sox (7/31): 8.2 IP, 4 R/ER, 95 pitches.
  • Against the Tigers (8/5): 7.1 IP, 0 R/ER, 105 pitches.

He has scuffled a bit in a couple starts to begin the season, but as the weather warms up, I would not be surprised to see more of what we saw on Thursday from Corey Kluber. When he has everything working, it's the perfect storm. His composure and quiet competitiveness, his command and ability to pound the strike zone and his mixture of four different pitches to keep hitters off-balance can be a lethal combination that I would put up against just about anyone in the league.

A More Balanced Lineup

Right around Thanksgiving last year, shortly after David Murphy was signed, I wrote about how his presence in the lineup could bring more balance to the Indians' offense. So far in 2014, things have played out just as I hoped they would with him.

The Indians have a decent offense as they finished in the top five in the league in runs scored last season. The problem is they've had and will continue to have peaks and valleys, at least as it is constructed just now. Michael Brantley has already established himself has the most consistent hitter in the lineup and, at times last year, was a one-man show during the team's slumps.

Now "Dr. Smooth" no longer has to shoulder the load of the offense by himself during those slow times. Why? Because of his new partner in crime, David Murphy!

The new Tribe right fielder's one hit on Thursday pretty much encapsulated the type of hitter he is at his best as he stepped up to bat in the fifth inning with the bases loaded and no one out. He didn't try to hit a homer or even drive the ball, for that matter. All he did was wait back on a 2-2 pitch from Bruce Chen and slap it other way down the third base line for a two-run single.

So far this season, Brantley and Murphy have led the team in runs-batted-in at 17 and 19, respectively. They have also been the Tribe's best clutch hitters batting .447 combined with runners in scoring position. Murphy's .533 mark in those situations currently lead all AL hitters (minimum 15 at-bats).

Of course, if Brantley and Murphy are still leading the team in RBI by the end of the season, something is wrong with the lineup, but when the Indians fall on hard times offensively, having that dynamic duo to keep things running will make those cold streaks a little less unbearable and even keep the team on track as they have almost singlehandedly during these first few weeks.

Facts and Notes

  • Corey Kluber pitched the first complete game for the Indians with at least 11 strikeouts and no walks sinceLen Barker tossed a perfect game on May 15th, 1981. 
  • Over their last seven starts combined, Kluber and Zach McAllister have gone 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA and have averaged seven innings per start.
  • Despite the Indians batting only .230 with runners in scoring position so far this season, they are second in the league in batting with the bases loaded at a .478 clip.
  • Michael Brantley is now tied for the league lead in outfield assists with three following his play in the fifth inning where he threw out Alcides Escobar at third on a Jarrod Dyson single.

Up Next: Indians (11-11) vs. Giants (12-10) @ AT&T Park. First pitch at 10:35 pm ET.

The Indians will head out west once again to take on a tough team in the San Francisco Giants, who had an off day on Thursday, but are coming off a series loss to the Rockies. They managed to salvage a victory in a wild extra-innings finale to the series. Veteran newcomer to the Bay Area Tim Hudson will take the mound in the opener against the Tribe. The right-hander has pitched well for his new ballclub so far going 2-1 with a 2.40 ERA and has not walked a batter in four starts.

Carlos Carrasco will get another opportunity to turn his game around and will have a tough task ahead of him as the Giants are currently in the top three in the National League in home runs and RBI. He didn't pitch all that badly during his last start against Toronto allowing four runs in five and two thirds innings, but it was not enough to earn him a win. He is still searching for his first win as a starter since 2011 as he has struggled with inconsistency and making in-game adjustments.

Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.

User Comments

Seth
April 25, 2014 - 9:15 PM EDT
If by always, you mean the first 2 starts of 2012 ... when he was coming off shoulder surgery that limited him that offseason. And he's been a good 2 mph below the start of that year. The only time he pitched with similarly diminished velocity was the last 5 starts of 2013, right before he hit the DL.
David
April 25, 2014 - 6:59 PM EDT
Look back at his history on fangraph. He ALWAYS starts out the season with lower velocity, save for last year. He is almost exactly where he was in 2012 in April. We have others that also start out slowly; Salazar, Kluber and even McAllister. All 4 pick up between 1.5 or more MPH on their heater between April and July. Even Carrasco, although to a lesser extent.
Seth
April 25, 2014 - 12:11 PM EDT
I think all conversations about extending Masterson should stop until he find the missing 3 mph on his pitches. Actually been impressed with his ability to make it work for ok for him so far, but a.) it's a huge red flag that he's hiding an injury b.) hitters will adjust and hit him harder, and he can't keep living at 88 mph on his sinker and 90 on his 4-seam, when he only has one other pitch. What made Masterson brutal was the 95 mph 4-seam and a 92mph sinker. Even if Masterson ends the year with a sub-4 ERA, if his velocity hasn't gotten back to where it should be I would stay away from anything but a 1-year deal.
Tony
April 25, 2014 - 12:00 PM EDT
Provided Masterson is healthy, I still extend him. If all it takes is a three year extension and for close to what he was requesting, I am game.
GSon
April 25, 2014 - 11:59 AM EDT
Kluber is really becoming a solid pro.. plain and simple,, he keeps the club in the game always.. You can build a winning club around guys like him....

W/R to Masterson and the front office deciding to let him walk in favor of the less expensive SP's like Kluber: Character.... talent... continuity.. all factor in deciding if a guy is pitcher or a pitch is a team guy.. It's pretty clear, Justin Masterson wants to stay.. if he really wants to stay, the Indians and his agents will work out a fair deal for the team. If not, then, it's compensation and have a great life..

The Indians define the market that is middle of the pack.. can't put your eggs into one basket. They just cant...

Good posting Rroger. you bring up some good points...
Roger
April 25, 2014 - 11:42 AM EDT
an addendum to above to the blog is 2013 when all was said and done the indians were one game behind the tigers in the al central even with a 4-15 head to head finish. so 150 million payroll versus 80 million sure didnt buy much for 70 million. and 2014 could be the same situation the tiger bullpen looks weak and you can sometimes hide deficiencies but two places where you can hide them are catcher and shortstop and with who detroit has at those two positions i rest my case
Roger
April 25, 2014 - 11:35 AM EDT
i am not so sure that the turning down of masty's offer has more to do with what the FO thinks of kluber zac mac and bauer more than their feeling about masty. A QO will get compensation but with their farm system as good as it is getting i dont think that is a consideration i think they perceive masty as a 3 or 4 MOR type pitcher and you dont have to pay those guys 15 million a year plus. Dombrosky has been very successful gm but he has 60 million dollar rotation and adding 10 to 15 next year with scherzer and porcello will take it higher. They dont have cheaper solutions to use like cleveland does so they are forced to pay for their starters since they traded the best long term solutions to their dilemma of not enough starters.

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