Right-hander Corey Kluber has to be exceptional in 2014 for not only the Cleveland Indians’ rotation but also to set the tone for what kind of pitcher he will be heading forward. The 27-year-old is still relatively new to the big leagues logging just over 214 career innings. If the Indians want another chance to play fall baseball, Kluber will need to be the foundation of the staff behind ace Justin Masterson.
Fresh off an unexpected stellar 2013 campaign, Kluber was tabbed as the No. 2 starter to begin 2014. Not that the order of the rotation has any relevance or correlation towards future success, but it says a lot about the expectations manager Terry Francona holds for the Birmingham, Ala. native.
The Tribe staff is a fragile group with an average age of 26.6 years old and little if any relevant depth to fall back on in the wake of a major injury. Danny Salazar was on a pitch count last season (Tommy John surgery) and Zach McAllister missed 45 games aiding a sprained middle finger and ribcage tightness. Kluber missed 37 games in 2013 coping with a sprained finger and tightness in his hip. Relying greatly on his sinker (92 mph) and cutter (89 mph), pitches that encourage finger injuries, Kluber must stay healthy in a thin playoff contending rotation.
It was a logical decision placing Carlos Carrasco as the fifth starter, allowing the Indians to call up Josh Tomlin, who is far more reliable, to hustle up to Cleveland when needed. The loss of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir will place added pressure on the starters returning this season. Kluber, who arbitration eligible through the 2018 season, must prove that 2013 was not a fluke with a solid encore to establish his market when a new contract is feasible.
“It seems like every outing, he goes one inning deeper into the game. That’s a normal progression of a good pitcher. The good news for us today is that he got to the seventh,” said Francona told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer about Kluber’s seven-inning outing yesterday. “He looks really good.”
The ZiPS have Kluber slightly dipping down from his breakout 2013 crusade, posting a 3.85 ERA, 8.31 K/9 in 147.1 frames. If Kluber can manage to keep his line drive percentage down below 2013’s 25.9 percent (20 percent league average), he will avoid lopsided innings with an early hook.