HOUSTON – Corey Kluber says the easiest way to get past a bad start is to flush it and move on. He said he did that a long time ago regarding his starts in Game 2 and Game 5 of the 2017 ALDS against the Yankees.
This season he definitely pitched like man who was looking forward instead of backward. Kluber won 20 games for the first time in his career, topping 200 innings and 200 strikeouts for the fifth straight season.
On Friday he will plunge into the ALDS again, this time against the defending World Series champion Houston Astros and Justin Verlander. Last year Kluber was not 100 percent, a point that quickly became evident as he allowed first-inning homers to Gary Sanchez in Game 2 and Didi Gregorius in Game 5.
In 33 starts during the regular season this year, Kluber allowed six of his career-high 25 homers in the first inning. So just how important is it for Kluber to get through the first inning on Friday with limited or no damage?
“You want to get through every inning without damage,” said Kluber on Thursday at Minute Maid Park. “Whether a team scores a run in the first inning, ninth inning or seventh inning it’s how many you add up at the end.
“I think a lot of times guys can maybe give up runs early on and they start trying to make up for it and it adds up to a few runs quicker than it should. But I think each inning is separate from the others one. It’s only an inning and you’re trying to get three outs as fast as you can, hopefully without anyone scoring, and then you try to do it again.”
We meet again: Verlander will be facing the Indians on Friday for the first time since the Tigers traded him to Houston in August of 2017. Before that Verlander and the Indians couldn’t get away from each other.
He made his big-league debut against them on July 4, 2005. In his career, he’s made more starts (52) against the Tribe than any team in the big leagues. He’s 20-24 with a 4.71 ERA against them.
“It’s been over a year (since I’ve faced them),” said Verlander. “I’ve changed a lot. Their lineup has changed. I will be interesting to see what happens.”
Verlander said he’s thrown a lot more four-seam fastballs since he joined the Astros.
“I think just overall, the adaptation of myself and how I use my stuff has changed,” said Verlander. “Some of that is analytics. Some of that’s just personal feel and knowing what works and kind of sticking to my guns a little bit.”
Houston manager A.J. Hinch say Verlander just keeps evolving.
“He’s had this start circled for a while now,” said Hinch. “He’s got a long history with the Indians. He’s going to come up with ways to combat the successes or failures that he’s had and he does that on a start by start basis.
“He has the mindset and the ability to evolve as the game around him gets younger and he gets older. When people think his stuff is going to decline, he throws harder. When guys start to hit his breaking ball, he comes up with a cutter. He’s always doing something to evolve.”
Need for speed: Outfielder Rajai Davis, the last man to make the Tribe’s ALDS roster, was asked how important speed can been in the postseason.
“It’s going to be huge,” said Davis, who stole 21 bases during the regular season. “It plays a factor in how guys pitch to the next guy at the plate. When you know a guy is quick or can steal bag. . .no one wants to give up 90 feet. If that effects the pitcher, the way he thinks, the way he delivers his pitches, and helps our hitter get better pitches to hit, it only benefits the team.”
Asked what his role will be in the ALDS, Davis said, “I don’t know what that is. I can’t name it, but I’m going to claim it.”
Good for Yandy: Last year Yandy Diaz didn’t make the Tribe’s postseason roster. This year he did.
“Yandy gives us protection from them bringing in a lefty,” said Francona. “It’s another guy who can play the infield, but it’s a guy that really swings the bat well against lefties. That’s basically why he’s here.”
The Astros have just one lefty in the bullpen, Tony Sipp. Dallas Keuchel, scheduled to start Game 3 on Monday, is a lefty as well. Diaz hit .289 (13-for-45) against lefties and .328 (21-for-64) against righties.
Finally: Catcher Yan Gomes, recovering from a lacerated and bruised right thumb, went through Thursday’s workout without a problem. He’s scheduled to catch Kluber on Friday.
“Once I found out that it wasn’t broken, I was already very optimistic,” said Gomes. “Today we took all the bandages off and tried to throw. It felt normal. It’s just like a swollen thumb, like I got jammed or something like that.”