CLEVELAND — Corey Kluber wasn’t even on the Indians’ Opening Day roster last year. Now, he’s their ace.
Kluber’s breakout season continued in earnest Friday night at Progressive Field, with the right-hander offering up another dominant performance to help Cleveland to a 5-2 win in the interleague series opener against the Rockies.
The win, just the last-place Indians’ second in the last seven games, snapped a four-game skid.
It was not surprising that Kluber was the one to stop the bleeding.
Though right-hander Justin Masterson has been the Indians’ No. 1 starter since 2012, Kluber has clearly been the best Cleveland’s rotation has had to offer this year.
The right-hander improved to 6-3 with a 3.04 ERA this season, allowing two runs on five hits while striking out 12 over 7⅓ innings. The high strikeout total has been a new twist for Kluber, who has fanned at least eight batters in seven of his 12 outings, including six straight.
“It’s fun to write his name in every fifth day. He just continues to get better,” manager Terry Francona said of Kluber, who didn’t allow a hit over the first three innings. “Power, movement, command … he was good. That was really impressive.
“I just think his stuff is so dominant, and it’s not just stuff, it’s location.”
May was a historical month for Kluber and his strikeouts. Going 4-0 with a 2.09 ERA in six starts, Kluber matched the franchise record with 60 strikeouts over 43 innings.
They were the most by a Cleveland pitcher since Dennis Eckersley accomplished the same in 1976. Dating to 1914, Kluber is just the fifth Indians pitcher to strike out 60 batters in a month. He joined Sam McDowell (eight times), Bob Feller (eight times), Herb Score (once) and Eckersley (once) in the elite group.
Kluber joined Texas’ Yu Darvish as the only pitchers in the majors over the last 10 seasons to record 60 or more strikeouts over a month.
“Probably just consistency,” said Kluber when asked what stood out for him during his sparkling May effort. “That’s my No. 1 goal — just to try an be as consistent as I can from start to start.
“I keep saying that I just think strikeouts are a byproduct of making good pitches. It’s not going out there trying to strike guys out. I don’t really think of myself as a certain kind of pitcher. I’m not trying to characterize myself as anything. I’m just trying to go out there and pitch, really.”
It took a while for the Indians’ offense to click, but after Kluber allowed a two-run home run to Carlos Gonzalez that put Colorado up 2-1 in the fourth inning, Cleveland responded.
Michael Bourn tied the game at two in the fifth with a single up the middle, and Asdrubal Cabrera put the Indians in front to stay with a two-run home run off Rockies starter Juan Nicasio.
Cabrera, who has scuffled at the plate for much of the year, entered the at-bat with just one hit in his last 24 at-bats, but the two-time All-Star shortstop has shown signs of reversing the trend.
Over his last 19 games, Cabrera is hitting .311 with three homers and nine RBIs.
Left fielder Michael Brantley, Cleveland’s most consistent hitter this season, matched a franchise record and set a Jacobs/Progressive Field mark with a double in the fifth inning that extended his home hitting streak to 19 games.
Julio Franco hit safely in 19 straight home games at Municipal Stadium from June 8-July 22, 1984.
Brantley’s home hitting streak is the longest in the majors this season, and his 15-game hitting streak overall is the longest active streak in the big leagues.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at (440) 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Likke him on Facebook and follow him @CAwesomeheimer on Twitter.