|Indians' Kluber returns to the mound to face sizzling Pirates|
CLEVELAND -- Corey Kluber's first start after the All-Star break will be anything but routine. He will be on the mound Monday night at Progressive Field as the Cleveland Indians host the red-hot Pittsburgh Pirates in the opener of a three-game series.
Kluber (12-5, 2.76 ERA) was given extended rest before and after the break to accommodate his right knee, which received an injection after his last start, an ugly 7-4 loss to the New York Yankees on July 12.
Before the injection, Kluber's knee was bothering him for, in his words, "a few weeks," and his performance seemed to reflect that.
In his first 14 starts this season, Kluber was 10-2 with a 1.99 ERA. However, in his last six starts he is 2-3 with a 5.03 ERA. It seemed clear that the balky knee was a contributing factor to the mediocre numbers, and Kluber suggested as much.
"If we looked at the data, there are some things that have changed," Kluber said. "I don't want to try to use it as an excuse or anything, but I think, if anything, it made it a little bit harder to constantly repeat the delivery the way that I would want to. My arm action has been the same. It's just the release point is lower."
If there was a silver lining, it's that the knee flareup occurred on the eve of the All-Star break. Kluber, who would have been a candidate to start the All-Star Game, didn't pitch in the game, and manager Terry Francona set up the rotation so Kluber wouldn't pitch until the fourth game after the break, which is Monday night in Cleveland.
"I would have liked to have pitched in the All-Star Game," Kluber said. "But I think, obviously, the big picture, being healthy for the second half, is more important. With the timing of it and having a break, kind of being able to do this and get some down time, not necessarily miss time, miss starts, things like that, it seemed to make sense."
Kluber will have gone 10 days between starts when he takes the mound against the Pirates, who have won nine in a row.
In Kluber's last start, the loss to the Yankees, he pitched 7 1/3 innings but gave up six runs and eight hits with nine strikeouts and two walks. He also threw 114 pitches, his second-highest pitch count for a game this season.
Monday's start will be Kluber's first career appearance against the Pirates. In three starts in interleague play this year, Kluber is 1-2 with a 6.14 ERA. His career record in interleague games is 13-6 with a 2.57 ERA.
He will facing the hottest team in baseball as the Pirates are trying to extend their winning streak to 10 games after polishing off a three-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds with a 9-2 victory. Corey Dickerson homered for the fourth straight game, giving him five homers in the span while Starling Marte ran his hitting streak to a career-high 15 straight games by homering.
Dickerson went 4-for-5 and recorded 21 bases as the Pirates scored 27 runs in Cincinnati. Marte is batting .381 (24-for-63) with six homers and 15 RBIs during the second-longest streak in the National League this season, one game behind Atlanta's Freddie Freeman.
"The bats showed up," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Really, everything did, but the offense was out in front of things. We did some damage early today."
The Pirates are on their first nine-game winning streak for the first time since June 20-30, 2013. They are seeking 10 straight wins for the first time since June 26-July 5, 2004.
In the last 11 games, Pirates starting pitchers have combined to post an 2.80 ERA and Trevor Williams (7-7, 4.36) starts Monday.
He, like Kluber, followed a strong start to the season with some bumpy performances of late.
In Williams' first nine starts, he was 5-2 with a 2.72 ERA. However, in his last 10 starts, he is 2-5 with a 6.26 ERA and has pitched six innings or more in only two of his last nine starts.
Williams' last start was a 2-0 win over Washington on July 11. In that game, he pitched five scoreless innings and gave up four hits with three strikeouts and three walks. Monday will be his first career start against Cleveland.
Williams is 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA in interleague play this year and 4-1 with a 2.05 ERA in his career in interleague games.