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Home runs and bullpen make up for a shaky Kluber start

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The Tribe wins, but is it time to worry about Corey Kluber?

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Early on, things looked about ready to unravel. The Astros jumped to an early 2-0 lead thanks to the two worst things in baseball: a bunt and a bases loaded walk. Both of these things came at the hands of Corey Kluber. Kluber, once again, walked a run home. This was the fourth time this has happened this season. If that seems strange to you, you’d be right:

It’s not clear why Kluber hasn’t enjoyed the same success in 2019 that he has in previous seasons. Especially looking at tonight, he seemed to have great movement on his pitches (his curve especially) and his fastball was back up to 94 mph at times. The main difference was the approach that Houston hitters took against Kluber. They just refused to swing at bad pitches. They were rewarded with long counts, three walks, and seven hits off of Kluber. All of this added up to a bloated pitch count for Kluber by the end of the second inning (52 across the first two innings). Kluber came back and had a quick 8-pitch third, but he threw 38 over the next two innings, bringing his pitch total on the evening to 98. The Astros worked to get Kluber out of the game early, and they succeeded in chasing him after five innings.

Unfortunately for the Astros, the Tribe bullpen showed up in a big way and slammed the door on the Houston offense for the rest of the night. Not least of which was Adam Cimber, who needed just 15 pitches to get 5 outs. Oliver Perez had one job and didn’t do it (damn you, Michael Brantley), and Nick Wittgren allowed a single to Carlos Correa that moved Brantley, the tying run. to third. Thankfully, Josh Reddick lined out and the threat was extinguished. Whittgren worked the eighth and allowed a leadoff single to Yuli Gurriel before retiring the next three hitters. Brad Hand came on in the ninth to work in his third straight game, and after a walk to Jose Altuve, he struck out the next three hitters to lock down the win for the Tribe.

The bullpen wasn’t the only key to tonight’s victory. The Tribe offense, led by Francisco Lindor, came alive against the Houston pitching staff and teed off to the tune of four home runs. Francisco Lindor had two of these home runs, marking the #100 and #101 home runs of his young career. And it is a young career:

Very enjoyable. The other dingers came off the bats of Carlos Gonzalez (his first as a member of the Indians) and Leonys Martin (his team-leading fifth on the season). Lindor’s second home run of the night, a two-run shot in the ninth, added some much needed insurance for Brad Hand. Two innings prior, Tyler Naquin broke the tie with the only non-home run offense of the night for Cleveland when he doubled in Greg Allen (who was pinch running for Roberto Perez).

All in all, a good victory for the Indians, who have now won three in a row. But there is cause for concern in regards to Corey Kluber. Maybe it’s just the noise of a small sample size that will normalize over the course of a full season, but I don’t think I’m the only one who does not have full confidence in Kluber as of late. And if the Tribe is going to have a successful season and (hopefully) postseason run, Kluber has to be central to that success. The margin of error for success is too small for Kluber to have a bad year. For now, I’ll take solace in the fact that the Tribe is 15-10 and will finish the month of April with a record over .500. There’s plenty of time this summer to worry about the other details.