Kluber picks up where he left off, but takes loss vs. Astros
Corey Kluber surprised the baseball world last season, grabbing the spotlight and overpowering hitters en route to capturing the American League Cy Young Award. It was the kind of breakout campaign that begged the question of whether he could do it again.
In the first Opening Day assignment of his career, Kluber looked like a pitcher determined to prove that last season's success was no fluke. The right-hander engaged in a tightly contested pitchers' duel with Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel, who did just enough to help Houston send the Tribe to a 2-0 loss on Monday at Minute Maid Park.
Even with a loss next to his name in the box score, Kluber opened his Cy Young encore in impressive fashion.
"It was exciting," Indians catcher Yan Gomes said. "We were criss-crossing guys like last year. It was exciting to see. It's just one of those things where it's the game to watch. Everybody's waiting to see how he's going to bounce back from last year. It's a good thing to see that, definitely."
When the smoke cleared, Kluber was charged with two runs on three hits in 7 1/3 innings, striking out seven and walking two. It was the kind of outing the right-hander provided for Cleveland on a consistent basis throughout last season, when he won 18 games, posted a 2.44 ERA and piled up 269 strikeouts in 235 2/3 innings.
The fact that Keuchel kept pace with Kluber only fueled the Cleveland ace's competitive fire.
"It's fun to kind of have that little battle," Kluber said. "But I don't affect what he does at all, and he doesn't affect what I do. It's more so focusing on the situation in the game and things like that. Obviously, when it's a close ballgame and low-scoring, there's a premium on every pitch. I think that's why it's a little more fun that way."
For nearly six innings, Kluber danced with history, daring to join Indians legend Bob Feller as the only pitchers in baseball history with an Opening Day no-hitter. Feller's gem against the White Sox to begin the 1940 season remains in a class of its own. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve took care of that with a looping single to shallow center field with two outs in the sixth.
That ended a streak of 18 batters faced with no hits surrendered for Kluber, who appeared to toy with Houston's lineup for much of the night.
"I just wanted to like make contact," Altuve, who led the Major Leagues in hitting last season, said. "Kluber was throwing everything for strikes and had good command. He had a really tough 95-mph sinker, with a 90-mph cutter, and that's got to be tough."
With Keuchel silencing the Tribe's offense, Altuve gave the Astros the opening the needed.
"Obviously, he's up there swinging," Kluber said. "So, you try to change speeds on him, mix it up. I made a pretty good pitch, but he's got good hands and good bat control, and he kind of dumped one in there."
Altuve promptly stole second base and then came around to score on a single to left field by George Springer. Houston's next run came after Kluber exited with runners on the corners and one out in the eighth, when Cleveland relieverScott Atchison yielded a sacrifice fly to Jake Marisnick.
That was all Houston managed off Kluber, who was hung with a hard-luck loss.
"He was good," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Man, he was good. On a lot of nights, we're sitting here saying he had a great game, it was a win. But, their guy was good, too."