GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Corey Kluber was back on the mound against opposing hitters Tuesday for the first time since October, making his exhibition debut at Goodyear Ballpark in a 16-8 win over Oakland.
The two-time and reigning Cy Young award winner allowed a run on a hit and struck out three batters over two innings.
“It’s new. I haven’t done it in however many months,” Kluber said following the outing. “It’s definitely different than throwing a bullpen or a live BP or things like that. I try to use the first time or two to get used to actually having another team and a defense behind me, things like that, working on maintaining my delivery throughout it and trying to get built up.
“I wasn’t necessarily working on anything specific, more so just trying to get used to the feeling of having another team out there and facing hitters, reacting to swings, things like that.”
“I thought he was pretty good,” manager Terry Francona said of Kluber. “For his first time out, he stayed under control, he didn’t try to overthrow. I thought he had some movement on his off-speed, even with his cutter, slider, (he was) down with it.”
Despite missing a month in the first half with lower-back soreness, Kluber produced one of the finest regular seasons in franchise history, going 18-4 with a 2.25 ERA while leading the American League in wins, ERA and WHIP (0.869), and ranking second with 265 strikeouts in 203 2⁄3 innings (29 starts).
But the year ended in disappointing fashion for Kluber and the Indians, who were eliminated by the Yankees in the Division Series, with the back issue resurfacing and the right-hander pitching poorly twice.
He arrived at camp healthy with no limitations or delays to his usual spring training routine.
“I couldn’t care less what his (exhibition) ERA is,” Francona said. “He’s going to work on things at times during spring and a lot of times you’ll see the veteran pitchers, they’re the ones that give up runs. They know they’ve got a spot on the team. He may want to work on fastball command one day, so he’s not going to throw a breaking ball. Things like that. The biggest thing is, when we get to Opening Day, he feels really good about himself.
“He’s got a pretty good idea of what he wants to do. And you watch, every outing his velocity will probably keep up one tick every time, it never fails, and by the end of spring, he’ll be ready to go.”
Back in business?
Second baseman Jason Kipnis has shined in his first two exhibition games despite missing the first two with lower-back soreness.
Kipnis has hit three home runs in two games, launching two in Tuesday’s win.
“Oh, my goodness sakes,” Francona said. “We swung the bat pretty much the whole game but, no, he took some really good swings. That’s always good to see.”
Kipnis, a two-time All-Star, is coming off an injury-plagued down season in which he batted only .232 with 12 homers and 35 RBIs in 90 games. His name surfaced multiple times in offseason trade talk.
Get well soon
- Right-hander Danny Salazar is still well behind the rest of the pitching staff after experiencing inflammation in his right shoulder/rotator cuff in January. Salazar is playing catch, but has yet to throw from the mound since arriving at training camp.
“I would say he’s still on the throwing program part of it,” Francona said. “It’s not really even long toss yet. He’s kind of at the shorter version.”
- Left fielder Michael Brantley (offseason right ankle surgery) is still limited to live BP and running drills, but Francona said the medical staff is close to putting a schedule together for him to expand his rehabilitation.
- Outfielder Brandon Guyer (offseason left wrist surgery) has resumed participating in baseball activities after aggravating the injury shortly upon reporting to camp.
- “Just like so many other guys, he’s not going to shortchange you on effort,” Francona said of Guyer, who is in the final year of his contract after being limited to 70 games last year. “He’s going to do everything he can to get ready.”
- Outfielder Abe Almonte (left shin contusion) left Tuesday’s game for precautionary reasons after being hit by a pitch in the eighth inning.
Pretty in pink
Right-hander Josh Tomlin may or may not have taken the mound Monday in Maryvale for his exhibition debut wearing pink nail polish on his toes — courtesy of one of his two young daughters.
According to Francona, the toes were pink prior to the team leaving for the road game against the Brewers.
“Did you see that? That was unbelievable. That was scary,” Francona joked. “I was sitting in the clubhouse and I’m sitting there talking to him and I look and he’s got pink toenails. I’m like, ‘What the (heck)?’ He said, ‘Well, you had kids, didn’t you?’ I said, ‘Yeah, but that’s not a good enough excuse.’”
If he still had his toes painted, it worked wonders for him. He tossed two scoreless innings and struck out two in a 7-6 loss.
Infielder Richie Shaffer is off to big start with two homers and a team-leading nine RBIs in four exhibition games. Shaffer, who hit a grand slam Tuesday, opened eyes last year with 30 homers and 89 RBIs in 131 games for Triple-A Columbus.