CLEVELAND — Though they traded their ace to St. Louis, the Indians appear to be in good hands with Corey Kluber atop their rotation.
As he has done all season, Kluber pitched like a No. 1 starter, outdueling one of the majors’ best in Seattle’s Felix Hernandez on Wednesday night to push Cleveland to a 2-0 victory at Progressive Field.
Hernandez, a four-time All-Star and former Cy Young award winner (2010) was good, setting a big league record with his 14th consecutive start of at least seven innings and two or fewer runs — two runs on four hits over seven innings.
But Kluber, who missed out in the final internet vote for his first All-Star appearance, was better.
In notching the first shutout of his career, Kluber (11-6, 2.61 ERA) allowed just three hits and didn’t walk a batter, while striking out eight.
“Someone asked me before the game, if I wasn’t part of this game if I would buy a ticket and watch it. I was like, ‘Yeah,’” said Indians manager Terry Francona, whose team won for just the third time in 10 games. “Rarely do you see two guys that are that good, and then on top of their game to boot.
“The way Felix is throwing, the only way you’re going to win is by somebody probably doing something pretty special, and that’s what Klubes did. He threw 16 balls (out of 85 pitches). That was really impressive. He just continues to get better, and that’s exciting for us.”
Kluber was about as efficient as can be in pitching the second complete game of his career. Since pitch counts began being tracked in 1988, Kluber is the first Cleveland pitcher to record a nine-inning shutout on 85 pitches or fewer — the 20th time it has happened in the majors.
Coupled with his previous outing, Kluber is the first Indians pitcher since Cliff Lee (2009) to post consecutive nine-inning starts without a walk.
According to Baseball Reference, Kluber is the only pitcher in MLB history to face 28 batters or fewer over consecutive starts of at least nine innings.
Kluber got a tough-luck no decision in a loss to the Royals his last time out, but the Indians managed enough offense off Hernandez (11-3, 2.01 ERA) to ensure their pitcher would be rewarded this time.
Cleveland broke a scoreless tie with both of its runs in the fifth inning, Carlos Santana drawing a leadoff walk to end Hernandez’s bid at perfection.
Lonnie Chisenhall followed with a double to end the no-hit bid and Nick Swisher producing an infield single to load the bases.
David Murphy grounded into a fielder’s choice out — the Mariners forced Santana at the plate — before Yan Gomes delivered a two-run double down the first-base line. Gomes is batting .409 (18-for-44) with two home runs and nine RBIs in 13 games since the All-Star break. His second-half average ranks fourth in the American League and 10th in the majors.
“They did a great job of hanging with it, even though he was throwing well,” Kluber said of Cleveland’s offense. “Even early in the game we made some loud outs. It wasn’t like we weren’t putting good swings on the ball.”
Kluber said he enjoyed his matchup against King Felix.
“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s obviously a challenge, going up against one of the best pitchers in the game. I think we all look forward to challenges. It was nice to come out on top.”
The Indians wore their socks high in honor of Masterson, who was traded before the game for minor-league outfielder James Ramsey.
“I though it was cool,” Francona said. “Anytime they want to do things together, as long as they’re not breaking the law, I’m OK with. We’re together so much. I think you can play better when you are looser and enjoying what you’re doing.”
Kluber, whose locker was in close proximity to Masterson’s, pitched with a heavy heart. But he’s confident his former mentor wasn’t just traded away for the future.
“Obviously, he’s a good friend to all of us,” Kluber said. “He’ll be missed, but they made a point to tell us that it’s not throwing in the white (towel). It’s trying to do what they felt was best. You accept that as part of the business side of the game. You’ve got to do your best to try and move one without him.”
WHO: Cleveland vs. Seattle
WHERE: Progressive Field
PITCHERS: McAllister (3-6, 5.65 ERA) vs. Young (9-6, 3.04)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM