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Tribe Notes

Indians preview 2019: It's nice to have some things to count on -- like Corey Kluber

  • Yankees-Indians-Baseball-10

    Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber delivers in the first inning of the team's baseball game against the New York Yankees, July 12, in Cleveland.

    TONY DEJAK / AP

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When you’re the best pitcher in the best starting rotation in the majors, you better act like it. Corey Kluber is, and does.

With the exception of the two perennial MVP candidates on the left side of their infield, the Indians this year have basically gone into default mode at most of the other positions. Please excuse their potted plants.

If you have enough pitching, you can cut some corners in other areas of the roster. That seems to be the theory the Indians intend to test in Pitch-fest 2019. Who knows? They might just be able to pull it off.

The Indians are going to sink or swim with their brothers in arms. Their flotation device will be their rotation device. The message to all comers is blunt: “We don’t care how stacked your lineup is, or how meager ours looks. We’ve got better starting pitching than you, so on most days we’ll be better than you. Deal with it.”

Who was it that said, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it”?

Yep. Dizzy Dean.

A pitcher.

Pitchers know how important they are. So do the wise guys in Vegas.

The first thing those who set the odds for every Major League Baseball game check before setting those odds is not who’s playing left field, or first base. They check who’s pitching.

If it’s Kluber, the team Kluber pitches for gets the nod that day. Why? Because he’s the best pitcher in the best rotation in the majors.

You can bet on it.

The Indians are counting on it.

Kluber, who over the last five years has averaged 32 starts per year and nearly a Cy Young Award every other year, will be on the mound today when the Indians open the championship season by foolishly playing a game of ball in Ice Station Minneapolis.

Ski masks and hand warmers aside, this is the time of year when traditionally the pitchers are ahead of the hitters. That doesn’t apply to Kluber, however, because he’s traditionally ahead of the hitters all season long. Whether it’s 32 degrees in April, 85 degrees in July, or 45 degrees in September. Doesn’t matter.

Every fifth day, Kluber starts a game, spins a gem, then spends four days prepping to do it again.

He’s a manager’s dream because he makes all his starts, he pitches better than anyone in most of them, wins more games than most pitchers and makes fewer waves than anyone.

Don’t underestimate that last quality.

Managers value that, too.

You would never, for example, see Kluber tweeting — tweeting? Does he even have an account? — that he had a better year than some other pitcher.

Trevor Bauer last year tweeted that he had a better year than Kluber. That would be kind of a big deal if Kluber was on another team. But Kluber is not only Bauer’s teammate, he pitches the day before Bauer throughout the season.

So it was a bigger deal than most, and Kluber reacted the way Kluber reacts to all such nonsense.

He ignored it. At least publicly.

That’s how Kluber rolls. Unlike Bauer, as an off-the-field or between-starts news generator, Kluber is about as controversial as a jar of mayonnaise. He speaks in a tone that would have to rally to be considered a monotone. He smiles about as often as he gives up a hit.

He’s the picture of professionalism, which his employers love, for obvious reasons. If the most professional player on your team is the utility infielder, you’ve got nothing. If the most professional player on the team is the best pitcher on the best starting rotation in the majors, you’ve got a chance.

The irony, of course, is that Kluber, the most unassuming member of the rotation, gets noticed more than the other four, a couple of whom actively seek the bright lights.

In a sport and a culture that are exploding with hot takes, loud noises, dimwits and way too much shouting and pointing, Kluber Klubes quietly along in metronomic magnificence.

He effortlessly flaunts his excellence every fifth day. Start after start, month after month, year after year, he makes world-class pitching look easy.

Thus, it was an easy choice for Terry Francona to pick his opening day starter. A no-brainer, really.

There could be Cy Young Awards in the future of any of the other four pitchers in the rotation. But opening day belongs to Kluber, who responded in his typical loose cannon, shoot-from-the hip fashion when he told reporters, “We have five guys who could pitch opening day.”

There he goes, shooting off his mouth again.

Kluber’s low-key approach, low-maintenance personality and even lower earned run average make him an easy player to take for granted. Francona doesn’t. He tells young pitchers to try to emulate Kluber’s work ethic.

Because there’s nothing more professional than Kluber being Kluber.

Contact Jim Ingraham at (440) 329-7135 or jingraham4@gmail.com. Follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter.


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