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Indians offense spoils a Corey Kluber gem on Opening Day

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This game had no right to be exciting, but it came down to the final pitch.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

On any other night, with just about any other offense, this recap is an overall happy one. Sure, I know the rest of you went to bed and are reading this in the morning while I try to stay awake and form words with my fingers, but overall it would be pleasant. Instead, I’m left to explain how the hell Corey Kluber pitched eight innings and still lost.

Not just eight innings, mind you, but eight dominant innings, complete with eight strikeouts and just one walk. Unfortunately, it came with six hits and one big, big hit from Nelson Cruz.

Kluber painted the corners for most of the night — so much so that it started to draw boos from the Seattle crowd — but one meatball thrown to Cruz in the first inning was crushed over the centerfield wall to give the Mariners a completely insurmountable two-run lead.

This game had shades of 2015 in it for that reason. Kluber had a dominate outing, gave up one ugly run early, a limp offense couldn’t keep up, and the Indians lost. That happened a lot in year’s past, and it still isn’t fun when it happens in present day. Kluber’s weird first-inning struggles are nothing new — coming into today opponents have about a .020 higher wOBA against him in the first inning compared to every other frame, which seems backwards because it is. But like always, Kluber quickly made us forget the first inning and continuously buried his slider against the left-heavy Seattle Mariners lineup, throwing 66 of his 91 pitches for pinpoint strikes. If you had any doubts about our boy in 2018, they should be long gone already.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though, because it’s hard to be all sad when Francisco Lindor plays on your team. Not only did he catch a searing 105.3 mile-per-hour ground ball from Mike Marjama. Lindor bobbled it a bit, but he recovered quickly and rocketed the ball to first for the out. He pounded his glove and seemed to be talking to himself afterwards. Shortly after, he narrowly missed homering if his bat didn’t break on impact. I don’t mean to make broad, radio analysts type observations here, but he just has the look of someone who is about to absolutely destroy the league this season.

And then there’s Tyler Naquin. His first at-bat was an atrocity (so were the first at-bats of many Indians batters tonight, to be fair), but at least he didn’t swing wildly at anything up in the zone. Curiously enough, no one even attacked him up tonight. It’s a clear as day weakness for Naquin, but it was never really exploited. Instead, Felix Hernandez and Mariners relievers kept the ball low and Naquin responded with whiffs, minus on hit in the seventh.

Hernandez is no longer a fireballer that he was once was, but his new form — that of a lower-velocity, location machine — worked disgustingly well against the Indians offense. With how effective he was tonight you’d think he was some no-name left-hander fresh from Triple-A; the kind of pitcher the Indians usually struggle against. But really, though, it’s hard to look at these type of games on the losing end and see them as epic pitching duels, but that’s exactly what we had tonight, at least until Hernandez was pulled. It’s not the same old Hernandez, but he has a bright new future with this remade approach, mark my words.

The Indians offense wasn’t able to make much of anything until he left; but when he did they jumped on the bullpen, including making the ninth inning a confusing mess for Edwin Diaz. Even after Edwin Encarnacion got hit by a pitch, Rajai Davis advanced to second on a balk, Lonnie Chisenhall got hit, and they both stole bases, the game ended when Tyler Naquin swung through a pitch. And just like that, Opening Day was over. Not the result we wanted, but overall not a terrible experience.

It’s just one game, but let’s hope there aren’t many more like this over the next 161.