CLEVELAND -- For the second consecutive season, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona elected to start Trevor Bauer over likely American League Cy Young Award candidate Corey Kluber in Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field.
But just like last year, Bauer had a solid outing and turns a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series over to Kluber, the ace of the Indians’ staff, in an effort to build a commanding two-game advantage heading into Sunday night’s matchup against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.
“To me, it’s not about me wanting to pitch the first game or wanting to pitch the second game,” Kluber said. “It’s about us winning three games before they do. Whichever way that happens, and if it happens and we advance, it doesn’t matter who pitches when, in my mind.”
The unquestioned leader of the pitching staff, Kluber will likely be a Cy Young Award finalist for the second straight year and third time in four seasons. Kluber won the award following the 2014 season.
Off the disabled list for a month after being hampered by a lower back strain, Kluber finished off a strong performance throughout the month of June with a 12-strikeout showing over eight innings of work in a 5-1 win over the Texas Rangers at Progressive Field on June 29.
That win was Kluber’s fourth in the month of June and marked the sixth straight game in which he went at least six innings.
“He brings his breaking ball into a game earlier, and he still maintains his fastball late,” Francona said. “You rarely see him tired out there. I mean he conditions himself so well that sometimes, just the score of he game dictates coming out because he never really looks like he’s tired.”
On the season, Kluber struck out 265 hitters against just 36 walks with 141 hits and 51 earned runs allowed over 203.2 innings of work. Kluber posted an 18-4 record and American League-best 2.25 ERA.
The AL Pitcher of the Month for June, August and September, Kluber struck out at least seven batters in 16 of his last 19 games.
During the postseason last year, Kluber posted a 4-1 record with a 1.83 earned run average over six starts. In 34.1 innings of work, he scattered 28 hits and just seven earned runs with eight walks against 35 strikeouts. Opposing batters hit just .222 against him over the three rounds of play.
And now, Kluber will be tasked with giving the Indians a commanding two-game lead in the best-of-five series against the Yankees at Progressive Field tonight.
“To make it as simple as I can, it boiled down to us doing what we do best, more so going out there and executing our game plan as opposed to trying to adjust or pitch to the hitters,” Kluber said. “Obviously, you’re going to have a game plan for each hitter, but not worrying about them as much as going with our strengths and how our strengths can best get those guys out.
“In a way, we were almost just doing it backwards at the beginning.”