June 27, 2016

Mostly sunny

Tribe: Kluber is lights out

CLEVELAND — Corey Kluber is a man of few words, preferring to allow his pitches to do the talking. They were at a screaming-loud decibel Thursday afternoon at Progressive Field.

Offering up the finest performance of his young career, Kluber pitched Cleveland to a 5-1 victory in the series finale with Kansas City, the right-hander working his first complete game in the process.

The unassuming Kluber was close to as dominant as can be, striking out a career-high 11 while allowing just one unearned run on three hits.

It was a history-making effort of sorts, with Kluber becoming the first Cleveland pitcher to toss a complete game with 11 strikeouts, no walks and no earned runs since Len Barker’s perfect game on May 15, 1981, at Municipal Stadium. He is the seventh Indians pitcher to accomplish the feat since 1914.

“That was really fun to watch,” manager Terry Francona said of Kluber’s outing. “He had everything working, fastball going both ways, changeup, location, worked ahead and he threw a ton of strikes. That was really impressive. He pounded the zone all day.

“He’s not the loudest guy in the clubhouse, but there’s a fire there, man. He competes.”

The unassuming Kluber allowed just a hit over the first four innings, with KC’s only run coming courtesy of an error on first baseman Nick Swisher that allowed the Royals to score in the seventh inning.

“I think the biggest key was working ahead and pounding the lower part of the strike zone,” said Kluber, who retired the last seven hitters he faced following the Swisher error. “For the most part, I was working ahead and keeping them off balance. I think it’s just a product of making quality pitches. I don’t go out there and try to strike out guys. It happens when you’re making good pitches and working ahead of guys.”

It took awhile, but the Indians were finally able to solve Royals starter Bruce Chen, a 36-year-old soft-tossing left-hander who entered the day with a 7-3 record and 4.29 ERA in 19 career games (12 starts) against the Indians. He was 7-1 against Cleveland since 2010.

Chen, who allowed 10 earned runs over 8 2/3 innings of his previous two starts, kept pace with Kluber, surrendering just a hit over the first four innings, but the Indians turned the game around in the fifth.

The first five batters reached on hits, with Michael Brantley driving in Cleveland’s first run off Chen before David Murphy sliced a two-run double down the third-base line to score two more. Asdrubal Cabrera followed a sacrifice bunt with a two-run double to chase Chen and cap the fifth-inning output that accounted for the Indians’ biggest inning of the year.

A scuffling Cleveland offense began to pick up pace during the four-game series against the Royals, helping the Indians to three wins. But Kluber was the difference in the finale.

“It was great that we finally got to (Chen),” Murphy said. “Obviously, the story of the day is Corey Kluber. What a tremendous job. It was fun to watch. When you’ve got a pitcher that throws 100 pitches and 75 strikes and is able to strike out 10 and have dominant stuff like he did today, it’s fun to play behind him and it’s fun to watch.

“It was a great series to get us rolling. We played great baseball. Hopefully, we can continue to do so.”

Contact Chris Assenheimer at (440) 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him @CAwesomeheimer on Twitter.