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Behind the Box Score: Corey Kluber still sharp

Despite an uncharacteristic start to the season, Corey Kluber still pitched to the best of his abilities by getting hitters to whiff at 13 of his 98 pitches on Friday night at Progressive Field. The IBI's John Alfes looks beyond ERA and breaks it down...

CLEVELAND – Opposing hitters are susceptible to swinging strikes when facing the wrath of Corey Kluber.

Friday night was no exception.

A strong breeze permeated the infield every time a hitter whiffed against Kluber, an event that took place 13 unique times over the course of the series opener between the Indians and White Sox at Progressive Field.

Forget the earned run average (4.38). Forget the career-high home run to fly ball rate (17.1%). Forget the lower back strain.

Corey Kluber is fooling hitters in ways that do not appear in the box score (hence the name of this article) by throwing a sharper curveball, crisper sinker and tidier cutter on both sides of the plate.

"Kluber did an awesome job of setting the tone and keeping us in it," Bradley Zimmer said after the 7-3 win over the White Sox.

All three pitches morphed into an elite arsenal that had Chicago begging for a new hurler to enter the contest...

The result summed out to be a 13.3% swinging strike percentage, a mark that correlates with his career-high clip of 13.9% this season.

“It seemed like when runners got on, he went to his breaking ball, his curveball really effectively,” said manager Terry Francona. “He made pitches when he had to.”

Although a traditional stat like ERA has yet to translate to the level fans are accustomed to, Kluber still possesses the ankle-breaking offerings that put batters on their front foot in a spectacle of embarrassment.

“My fastball command wasn’t great tonight, but if you look back at it, they hit one ball hard the entire night,” Kluber said. “A couple of bloops, a couple of broken bats, groundballs. Those are kind of things you can’t control as a pitcher. But like I said, I’m just trying to keep the team in it.”

In digging deeper into his numbers, Kluber is still striking out 10.59 hitters per nine innings (9.54 career K/9), still leaving 72.4% of runners stranded on the bases (career 73.4% left on base percentage) and still working deep into ballgames (one start less than six innings in 2017).

“When he’s in there, we’re down or it’s close the whole way, so there wasn’t any wiggle room for him,” said Francona.

With a 2014 AL Cy Young award and near perfect postseason performance in 2016 already under his belt, no wiggle room will be needed anytime soon if the Tribe can revert to their winning ways from just eight months ago.

“I think that maybe we can use tonight as a starting point to continue to play that way,” Kluber said. “I think we’ve probably all come to the conclusion we haven’t played the way we wanted to. It’s not like we’ve taken ourselves out of anything. It’s not the worst thing in the world to get a reminder now and again that you go out and play the right way and good things happen.”

John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.


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