CLEVELAND — Corey Kluber wasn’t even on the Indians’ Opening Day roster last year. Now he’s their ace.
Kluber’s breakout season continued Friday night at Progressive Field as the right-hander turned in another dominant performance to help Cleveland to a 5-2 win in the interleague series opener against the Rockies.
The last-place Indians snapped a four-game losing streak.
It was not surprising that Kluber was the one to stop the bleeding.
Though right-hander Justin Masterson has been the Indians’ No. 1 starter since 2012, it’s been Kluber who has clearly been the best Cleveland’s rotation has had to offer this year.
The right-hander improved to 6-3 with a 3.04 ERA, allowing two runs on five hits, while striking out 12 over 7⅓ innings. The high strikeout total has been a new twist for Kluber, who has fanned at least eight in seven of his 12 outings, including six straight.
“It’s fun to write his name in every fifth day. He just continues to get better,” manager Terry Francona said of Kluber, who didn’t allow a hit over the first three innings. “Power, movement, command … he was good. That was really impressive.
“I just think his stuff is so dominant, and it’s not just stuff, it’s location.”
May was a month for making history for Kluber and his strikeouts. Going 4-0 with a 2.09 ERA in six starts, Kluber matched the franchise record with 60 strikeouts over 43 innings.
It’s the most by a Cleveland pitcher since Dennis Eckersley accomplished the same in 1976. Dating back to 1914, Kluber is just the fifth Indians pitcher to strike out 60 batters in a month. He joined Sam McDowell (eight times), Bob Feller (eight times), Herb Score (once) and Eckersley (once) in the elite group.
Kluber joined Texas’ Yu Darvish as the only pitchers in the majors over the last 10 seasons to record 60 or more strikeouts in a month.
“Probably just consistency,” said Kluber when asked what stood out for him during his sparkling May effort. “That’s my No. 1 goal, just to try and be as consistent as I can from start to start.
“I keep saying that I just think strikeouts are a byproduct of making good pitches. It’s not going out there trying to strike guys out. I don’t really think of myself as a certain kind of pitcher. I’m not trying to characterize myself as anything. I’m just trying to go out there and pitch, really.”
It took a while for the Indians’ offense to click, but after Kluber allowed a two-run home run to Carlos Gonzalez that put Colorado up 2-1 in the fourth inning, Cleveland responded.
Michael Bourn tied the game at 2 in the fifth with a single up the middle, and Asdrubal Cabrera put the Indians in front to stay with a two-run home run off starter Juan Nicasio.
Cabrera, who has scuffled at the plate for much of the year, entered the at-bat with just one hit in his last 24 at-bats, but the two-time All-Star shortstop has shown signs of reversing the trend.
Over his last 19 games, Cabrera is hitting .311 with three homers and nine RBIs.
Left fielder Michael Brantley, Cleveland’s most consistent hitter this season, matched a franchise record and set a Jacobs/Progressive Field mark with a double in the fifth inning that extended his home hitting streak to 19 games.
Julio Franco also hit safely in 19 straight home games at Municipal Stadium in 1984 from June 8-July 22.
Brantley’s home hitting streak is the longest in the majors this season, and his 15-game hitting streak overall is the longest active streak in the big leagues.
Still, Kluber carried the night.
“It looked kind of nasty,” Bourn said of his view of Kluber from center field. “He’s hard to get a hold of because he has balls going both ways and he knows how to expand the plate when he needs to and put it on the corner when he needs to.
“He’s getting a real feel for pitching. He’s just only getting better. That’s always a plus when somebody like him comes in and stops the bleeding when we need to this year, and he was able to do it again.”
WHO: Cleveland vs. Colorado
WHERE: Progressive Field
PITCHERS: Bauer (1-2, 3.86 ERA) vs. Morales (3-4, 5.65)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM