CLEVELAND — The numbers were stacked against Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber on Tuesday night.
The 27-year-old was 1-2 with a 9.17 ERA against Detroit in his career — 0-1 with a 15.43 ERA in one start versus the Tigers this season. He was also 0-5 with a 5.09 ERA in 11 career appearances at Progressive Field.
Somehow Kluber managed to beat the odds for a solid performance, but a three-batter meltdown was enough to allow the Tigers to come away with a 5-1 victory.
“Corey was extremely aggressive tonight,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He looked crisp and he was throwing hard. It was just that one long inning. He went away a little bit from attacking.”
Kluber breezed through the Tigers lineup twice, allowing just three hits through five scoreless innings. But in the sixth he fell behind leadoff hitter Andy Dirks, who homered to tie the game, gave up a double over right fielder Drew Stubbs’ head to Torii Hunter and surrendered a massive 411-foot home run to Miguel Cabrera that gave Detroit a 3-1 lead.
“I made three mistakes … that’s it,” Kluber said. “I didn’t execute on that 3-1 pitch (to Dirks) and you have to execute your pitches when you’re behind in the count.”
It didn’t help that Detroit starter Max Scherzer (6-0, 3.61 ERA) was putting together a performance worthy of the Cy Young Award — meaning the Indians should have no problem beating him next season — and Kluber’s pitch count was getting out of hand.
Kluber (3-3, 5.19) managed to strike out eight Tigers and walk none, but needed 111 pitches through 6⅓ innings. The strikeouts and pitch count were career highs for the right-hander.
“He’s getting better and better, which is good,” Francona said. “He’s learning quickly and he’s gaining confidence.
“He just made a couple mistakes and one of them was to the wrong guy.”
That guy was Cabrera, who won the Triple Crown last season and has never been an easy out for Kluber.
Coming into the game, Cabrera was batting .444 (4-for-9) against Kluber, with a home run, a walk and four RBIs.
Hunter and former Indians shortstop Jhonny Peralta also were batting above .300 against Kluber, and former Indians catcher Victor Martinez went 3-for-3 against him Tuesday night.
“They’re good hitters and they took advantage of my mistakes,” said Kluber, who gave up eight hits. “I still felt good, even in the sixth inning.”
Kluber is in his fourth season with the Indians, who acquired him from the San Diego Padres on July 31, 2010, for starting pitcher Jake Westbrook. He made his major league debut as a September call-up in 2011, then made 12 starts and five relief appearances for the Indians during the second half of last season.
Kluber began this season in the Indians bullpen, made two relief appearances and then joined the rotation when Brett Myers was placed on the DL. The eight earned runs he surrendered to Detroit on May 10 make up the bulk of his inflated ERA.
Tuesday’s outing was Kluber’s third quality start of the season and second in a row, coming off a 10-4 win over Philadelphia on May 15. Kluber also reached 96 mph on three straight pitches in the first inning — a velocity that hadn’t been seen in previous appearances.
“As he gets more confident, he seems to be able to reach back for more … which is good,” Francona said. “He came out the chute firing tonight, which I think was good for him.”