CLEVELAND — The Indians had nothing going against Kansas City’s Bruce Chen over the first six innings of the series opener Friday night at Progressive Field.
It didn’t matter — not with Corey Kluber on the mound.
Solidifying his spot in the rotation with another brilliant outing, Kluber tossed 7⅔ scoreless innings, allowing just three hits while striking out eight batters to propel Cleveland to a 3-0 win.
“That’s a pretty good performance,” said manager Terry Francona, whose team won its second straight to remain 2½ games behind first-place Detroit in the Central Division. “He certainly stays composed, and for a young pitcher, that’s a big compliment.
“When he stays aggressive with his fastball and works off that, he’s very impressive.”
Kluber (7-5, 3.88 ERA) has been on a roll since June 11, with the Indians emerging victorious in six of his last seven starts. The right-hander has worked eight quality starts overall, limiting the opposition to three or fewer runs in 11 of his 15 outings.
“I think most of it is just confidence,” Kluber said. “It’s a continuous learning process. I’m just trying to take the good and the bad and apply it going forward.”
Kluber retired 11 of the first 12 hitters and 10 straight to finish his outing. He encountered trouble just once — in the fifth inning — and was able to pitch through a bases-loaded, one-out situation without Kansas City lighting the scoreboard.
After walking two straight to load the bases, Kluber struck out leadoff hitter Alex Gordon before fielding a grounder on the run from Eric Hosmer to end the inning by himself.
“I was able to step back and take a deep breath and get back on track,” Kluber said. “It worked.”
Cleveland managed just one hit off the veteran Chen, who walked one and struck out four, but only lasted six innings (97 pitches).
“If you try to do too much, you play right into it,” Francona said of Chen’s approach. “He really knows how to pitch. He frustrated us.”
Fortunately for Cleveland, the Royals had to turn to their bullpen in the seventh inning. That’s when the Indians struck.
The Indians produced five straight hits to score three times, with Carlos Santana driving in a run before scuffling slugger Mark Reynolds surprised everyone in the park by dropping down a perfect bunt to the left side of the infield to put Indians aboard each base.
“I think that caught everybody on the Royals, in the stands, in the press box and in our dugout by surprise, and it ends up maybe winning a game for us,” Francona said. “That’s a guy that cares more about winning than trying to hit the ball 500 feet.”
Michael Bourn landed the big blow in the inning, pinch-hitting for Ryan Raburn and driving a two-run double to right-center to cap the scoring.
“How about that? Day off and he’s ready and gets a big hit,” Francona said. “That’s the kind of guy you want around. He wasn’t lounging around on his day off.”
With closer Chris Perez having pitched five times over the previous six days, the Indians turned to right-hander Cody Allen in the ninth inning.
Though he allowed two hits and walked one to load the bases, Allen struck out the side to earn his second career save.
It was the Indians’ American League-leading 12th shutout, which ranks second in the majors behind Pittsburgh’s 13. It is the most by the Indians since 17 in 1968. Of the 12 shutouts, nine have come at Progressive Field.
It’s been a struggle for much of the season for Cleveland’s Nick Swisher, who went 1-for-3. But he’s been hot as of late, hitting safely in 10 of his last 12 games, while batting .366 (15-for-41) with two home runs and six RBIs over the span.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or email@example.com Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @CAwesomeheimer.