Yankees' Corey Kluber not stressing lack of innings from starter: 'I don't sense there's any pressure'

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Scott Thompson
·4 min read
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Yankees Corey Kluber with head down in spring training uniform
Yankees Corey Kluber with head down in spring training uniform

After going only 2.1 innings in his last start against the Rays, Corey Kluber wasn't looking to give the Yankees more length against the Blue Jays on Wednesday afternoon. Technically, he accomplished that goal compared to the previous start. But it still wasn't enough.

Kluber went just four innings, as he had to grind through Toronto's lineup that hit two homers off him in the 5-4 loss. Overall, Kluber's line was three earned runs on six hits with two walks and four strikeouts over 77 pitches.

But, despite only giving the Yankees four innings that forced Aaron Boone to dip into his vaunted bullpen early again, Kluber thinks that this start was a step in the right direction for him.

"Stuff's getting better. Location is getting better. The amount misses throughout the course of the game is becoming less and less. The mistakes I'm making, I'm paying for," he said.

Those mistakes came in the bottom of the second inning, when Rowdy Tellez hit an 0-2 changeup to left field to spoil a good start for Kluber. Then, Alejandro Kirk, who was 0 for 13 to start the season, hit a hanging slider over the left-field fence to take the lead, 2-1.

While Kluber does see his mistakes "becoming less and less," Boone also believes the veteran right-hander is making strides.

"Had Tellez there 0-2 to start that inning and changeup that wasn't an awful pitch away but elevated enough and Tellez put a good swing on it to get things started, and then hung a breaking ball to Kirk," Boone said.

"Otherwise, made some pitches to get out of the jam there in the last inning, so I think he's continued to get close to where he needs to be. When you think about Corey at his best, it's movement and precision just getting over that final hump and getting real precise.”

New York Yankees starting pitcher Corey Kluber (28) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at TD Ballpark.
New York Yankees starting pitcher Corey Kluber (28) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at TD Ballpark.

To be fair, Kluber's pitches do seem to be getting better, with more bite on the sinker and cutters and the sweeping slider -- his signature pitch -- is being located a little better. But when he gets beat, it's because he's leaving the ball up in the zone. With a low velocity compared to his Cy Young days, Kluber isn't going to overpower people. He even said he's focused on the execution and location of where the ball meets the catcher's glove.

And you must remember that Kluber only pitched eight games in the past two seasons due to injury. So a slow start isn't surprising for someone trying to get back into the grind of the regular season.

But to also be fair to Yanks ace Gerrit Cole, pitchers like Kluber need to step things up moving forward. They've only gone either two or three times thus far, but Kluber on down owns a 6.14 ERA and is averaging 4.1 innings per game this season.

For a team with championship hopes, that's not going to cut it in the long run. Luckily, the Yankees do have depth in the rotation, as Boone has discussed before. Deivi Garcia, Michael King and others await their turn at the Alternate Site and could provide length whenever their name is called. Luis Severino could also return from his Tommy John surgery and give the Yanks' rotation the boost it might need at that time.

But, at the same time, the Yankees added Kluber and Jameson Taillon -- he got lit up by the Jays for five runs over 3.2 innings on Tuesday night -- hoping they could provide solid innings behind Cole right away. So far, that hasn’t been the case and the bullpen has needed to be burned to make up for it. And the results? A 5-7 record with 4 of 6 lost on this road trip before heading home to face one of those AL East foes in the Rays.

So despite it being early in the season, this is a trend that scares Yankee fans because guys like Kluber and Taillon were high-risk, high-reward additions. The risk part of that is showing its face more so far, but for Kluber, there isn’t any added pressure.

"I don't sense there's any pressure," he said.