COMMENTARY | Talk about coming out of nowhere.
With a masterful effort in a victory over the Washington Nationals on Sunday, Cleveland Indians pitcher Corey Kluber continues to be a pleasant surprise for a Tribe rotation in desperate need of quality starting pitching. In his last five starts dating back to May 26, Kluber is 2-1 with a microscopic 1.79 earned run average.
Not too bad at all for a guy that was barely in the conversation to make the Indians' rotation coming out of spring training.
After a posting a subpar 5.14 ERA in 12 starts at the end of the 2012 season, Kluber was a long shot to win the battle for the Tribe's fifth starting spot over fellow pitchers Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, and Scott Kazmir. A 6.43 ERA in three spring training appearances eliminated Kluber from the competition and he was optioned to Class AAA Columbus on March 21.
Even after a so-so start to the season for the Clippers, Kluber was called up to the big league club on April 10 for what was supposed to be a spot start against the New York Yankees. A subsequent injury to Brett Myers, a desire by the Tribe to let Bauer get more experience in the minors, and a looming suspension for Carrasco earned Kluber a spot in the rotation almost by default.
A move that was based on immediate need now looks like a masterstroke for the Tribe.
Other than a May 10 start that saw him allow eight runs in 4.2 innings against the Detroit Tigers, Kluber has exceeded most Tribe fans expectations. He has pitched at least six innings in seven of his ten starts. That number could very well be eight, but his start against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 31 was abbreviated to just two innings as a result of a nearly three-hour rain delay.
Kluber's ability to keep runners off base has been nothing short of fantastic thus far in 2013. Currently, he has a WHIP of 1.18 and has allowed only 12 walks in 65.1 innings of work. His 5.42 strikeouts per walk would rank fourth in the American League, but Kluber is just short of the innings needed to qualify. Fellow Tribe pitchers such as the perennially underachieving Ubaldo Jimenez and the always disappointing Scott Kazmir can only dream of putting up numbers to match the likes of what Kluber has accomplished this season.
In shutting down the powerful Texas Rangers on June 11 and outdueling Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg on Father's Day, Kluber has more than done his part to carry the burden left behind by Zach McAllister's injury. He has knocked nearly two runs off his ERA in the last month, lowering it to 3.58.
Through fate and a pitcher finding his groove after posting a pedestrian 4.42 career ERA in seven minor league seasons, Kluber has earned himself a spot at the top of the Tribe's rotation and the Indians have finally found a quality young starter. After his previous cups of coffee at the big league level, it looks like this time Kluber is here to stay.
Shaun Heidrick is a Yahoo! Contributor who has followed the Cleveland Indians for 25 years.
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