The Toronto Blue Jays will face Corey Kluber in Game 4 of ALCS. He’s pitching on short rest. JFtC looks at whether that matters
On Monday night, a mostly flat Blue Jays team dropped their third game in a row to a surging Cleveland ball club hungry for their first American League Championship since 1997 and first World Series since 1948. Susceptible to early-game deficits, a misplayed ball in the outfield quickly turned into a 1-0 lead for the visitors. Despite a drone-mangled pinky finger on his throwing hand, the Blue Jays failed to inflict damage on starter Trevor Bauer and a barrage of relievers – tallying just two runs over the next eight innings and a total of three over 27 innings in the ALCS.
Cleveland will aim to sweep Tuesday afternoon by starting their Cy Young favorite Corey Kluber on three days rest, setting him up for a third ALCS start, again on three days rest, in a potential game seven on Saturday. Manager Terry Francona has made it clear that Kluber in Game 4 is solely to set up his return in Game 7:
“If we don’t bring him back tomorrow and he pitches Game 5, we don’t have a starter for Game 7. I mean, we have to physically have a starter. So this is the best way to do it. I mean, this is the only way to do it. There’s no other way around it. We don’t have another starter right now. It’s not that difficult.“
It’s not as difficult as Francona’s wording made it sound, but there remains some tempered concern in his decision. Kluber has pitched on three days rest just once, serving the role as a mop up guy in a late-September 2011 trouncing at the hand of the Tigers. Coming in to start the sixth inning, Kluber struck out temporary Blue Jays farmhand Andy Dirks on three pitches, inducing a fly ball to Will Rhymes and plunking both Don Kelly and Delmon Young. With two outs and two on, Kluber showed a sign of what was to come in his big-league career, corralling future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera in the form of a 6-3 ground out to end the threat.
Kluber cruised through the seventh inning, getting a Victor Martinez line out, Alex Avila ground out, and a three-pitch strikeout of Ryan Raburn. However, the offense escalated quickly in the eighth. With the game already out of hand, another ex-Blue Jay in Ramon Santiago singled, followed quickly by another hit on the first pitch from Will Rhymes and an RBI single from Don Kelly. Kluber was removed and replaced by Josh Judy, who allowed a first-pitch home run to Delmon Young. Josh Judy has not been seen since.
Of course, Kluber didn’t give up the home run, but it does seem from the play-by-play (and lack of video available) that he may have tired very quickly, failing to record an out in his third inning of work. Of course, this is 2011 Corey Kluber, a 25-year old September call up. Kluber came into his own at the end of 2012, but even from this highlight of his first MLB win, we can see considerable differences between then and now:
Kluber is visibly slighter in frame in 2012 and his mechanics are not yet refined. While the bite on the curve ball was still excellent (see the Miguel Cabrera strikeout in the video), he seems to leave some sewer-pipe straight fastballs up in the zone as a result of what seems to be a dependence on arm strength and not a proper transfer of energy from his legs, through mid-section rotation and driving the ball towards home. You may also note that in the 2012 video, Kluber is a bit taller in his delivery, unlike in his most recent start, where we see a fluid, compact and easily-repeating pitching machine.
What you’ll likely hear on this afternoon’s broadcast, if they can bring themselves to saying anything remotely negative towards Cleveland, is Kluber’s lack of success on three days rest. Yet with the paltry sample size of two-plus innings, a first pitch HR scoring two inherited runners, and the fact that Kluber has evolved into an elite starter just doesn’t lead into any sort of reliable prediction. The Jays will have to do what they’ve done all season to be successful in ambushing his fastball and using all fields if and when he doesn’t snap off a perfect curveball. Without this, we could see a very quick sweep at the hands of Kluber and the Burning River Curtain at the end of Cleveland’s bullpen.
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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Roy’s earliest memories all involve baseball from the early 90’s and the Blue Jays dream teams. He became a Blue Jays fan while watching Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green evolve in Syracuse, NY at the run-down confines of MacArthur Stadium, nestled between highway and swamp. A lifelong baseball player, Roy still plays (P, C, 2B, 3B) in the 25+ Syracuse MSBL for the Liverpool Mets. He watches almost all games with his best buddy Sebastian, a five year old Pug, who could care less.