CHICAGO (AP) — Nothing ever rattles Corey Kluber. He is machine-like, unflappable and perhaps the ideal pitcher to be asked to work on short rest in the World Series.
Plug him in and he goes, and he is ready to go a bit earlier than usual. The pitcher nicknamed “Klubot” a few years ago by his teammates will start Game 4 on three days’ rest Saturday night with the Indians two wins from their first Series title since 1948.
Manager Terry Francona is bringing Kluber back quickly, and that’s not great news for the Cubs or their fans. He’s been Cleveland’s October ace in his first postseason, going 3-1 with a 0.74 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings. He confounded Chicago’s hitters in Game 1 with six superb, scoreless innings.
The right-hander was brilliant in his first Series appearance, an 88-pitch clinic in which he either blew fastballs past the Cubs or locked them up by brush stroking the plate’s corners on both sides. Kluber was masterful, striking out eight of the first nine batters he faced to set a Series record as a national TV audience finally got to see a star who has not gotten much attention.
Kluber has been mostly overlooked in small-market Cleveland, where he has anchored the Indians’ staff for several years. If the 30-year-old pitched in New York or Boston or Chicago or Los Angeles, there might have been a statue erected of him by now.
Not that the 2014 Cy Young winner would pose for one.
Kluber simply enjoys doing his job, and few do it any better.
“Kluber has made himself, through hard work, one of the elite pitchers in the game,” Francona said. “Once he got here he didn’t take the foot off the gas. I mean, this kid’s routines are impeccable. He works hard. Every time he picks up a ball, there is intent. There’s a reason that it’s October 28th and his gas tank, the needle’s on full. That’s a pretty big compliment to his work ethic.”
Getting Kluber to smile, never mind say something complimentary about himself, is impossible. He’ll let others talk about him. All Kluber wants to do is help his team, and if that means he has to pitch sooner than he planned, well, that’s cool.
Yes, he’s a creature of habit, but even Kluber can handle a change-up and pitch earlier than usual. His preparation won’t change.
“It’s just basically doing the same stuff in one less day,” he said Friday before Game 3. “The (bullpen) sides are a little shorter and things like that, but I’m still able to get in the things I need to get in in between. I don’t really feel like the last time I did it made a big difference in the way I felt the day I pitched.”
Kluber, who went 18-9 during the regular season, pitched on short rest in the AL Championship Series against Toronto and sustained his only loss of the postseason, when he allowed two runs and four hits with seven strikeouts in five innings as Francona went to his bullpen a little early so as not to overextend him.
Francona’s going to ride Kluber now, and if he’s as good as he was in Game 1, the Indians will be a win closer to ending their 68-year drought.
Kluber had never gone on short rest before and found he was overthrowing early on against the Blue Jays before he relaxing and trusting his pitches.
“Last time was my first time doing it, so I didn’t know what to expect how I was going to feel,” he said. “Now that I do know that I felt fine, it’s just a matter of using those three days to recover. I’ll be fine tomorrow and then just go out there and pitch.”
Cubs manager Joe Maddon sounded a similar tone for his players as they prepare to face Kluber again.
“The guys got to see him, so there won’t be as much of a surprise the next time he pitches,” Maddon said after Friday night’s 1-0 loss. “It’s difficult for pitchers to replicate time after time, especially against the same team, especially with shorter rest, to be as sharp. But he may be. Not that it’s an advantage, only in the sense that we have seen him relatively just a couple days ago.
“So hopefully that works to our advantage. But you’ve got to wait until the game’s actually played to find out how sharp he is.”