Two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber set out on a minor league rehab assignment Thursday, tossing three innings for the Indians’ Triple-A affiliate in Columbus.
Kluber made 41 pitches across three innings, allowing a pair of runs on two hits — both solo homers — and a walk with two strikeouts. That line isn’t exactly pretty, but the organization’s focus for Kluber is surely more on the process and how Kluber will feel in the coming days than it is on the bottom-line results. Kluber hasn’t pitched since May 1, when he sustained a fractured forearm upon being struck by a comeback line drive.
Of course, Kluber’s results soon will be the focus, and the version of him that returns from the injured list will have a seismic impact on Cleveland’s postseason chances. If the Indians are greeted by the Cy Young-winning ace that Kluber has been for much of his career — or anything close to it — they’ll pose an even more formidable threat to the Twins and their dwindling division lead. But Kluber opened the season in a disastrous slump, pitching to a 5.80 ERA and battling control issues the likes of which we’ve never seen from him. In just 35 2/3 innings of work, Kluber walked 15 batters (3.8 BB/9) and hit another three. For a pitcher who only walked 34 batters and hit three in 215 innings last season, that was obviously an unsettling start to the year.
There’s little reason to believe Kluber won’t return to form, but he’ll need to sharpen his command quickly with Cleveland in a tight race for the American League Central crown. The Indians’ pitching staff has been rocked by injuries this season, but the team has remained competitive thanks to a breakout from Shane Bieber and solid contributions from lesser known arms like Zach Plesac. A healthy and effective Kluber will be all the more important now that Trevor Bauer is pitching in Cincinnati following a three-team deadline blockbuster. If Kluber can indeed bounce back, he’ll join Bieber and Mike Clevinger in comprising one of the more imposing rotation trios in the game.