CLEVELAND — Indians ace Corey Kluber looks like his old top-shelf self, but he had a somewhat alarming response when asked if he was over a lower-back injury that sidelined him for nearly a month.
“I think it’s going to be ongoing. It’s going to take work in between starts to manage it,” Kluber said, following a 6-4 loss to the Dodgers on Wednesday in which he allowed two runs on four hits, while striking out 10 over seven innings. “I don’t think I would say we were out of the woods, but I think I have an idea of what I need to do to put myself in a good position when my day to pitch comes.”
A lingering injury for Kluber, the 2014 Cy Young award winner, would be devastating for the Indians, whose rotation, pegged as one of the American League’s best to start the season, is ranked third-to-last in the AL through Wednesday with a 4.81 ERA.
Kluber, 31, was worked extremely hard in 2016, logging more than 200 innings (215) for the third straight year during the regular season before pitching 34 1⁄3 more during a playoff run in which he started multiple times on short rest.
The Indians limited Kluber’s workload this spring, but couldn’t prevent the back issue from forcing him to the disabled list after six starts.
“There’s stuff additionally that I need to do in between starts, but hopefully I’ve kind of figured out a good routine to be able to go out there and pitch without issues,” he said.
Kluber (5-2, 4.15 ERA) recorded his 1,000th career strikeout Wednesday, surpassing Hall of Famer Bob Feller as the fastest pitcher in franchise history to reach the plateau — 148 games to Feller’s 167.
“It’s a cool achievement,” said Kluber, who has allowed a combined five runs over three starts since leaving the injured list, striking out 28 batters over 19 innings. “To be mentioned with Bob Feller is very humbling. I think it’s probably something that I will come to appreciate as time goes on. It would have been cool to do it when we win a game, but it’s not something I’m striving to do, to strike people out.”
Second baseman Jason Kipnis, a late scratch Wednesday night, was out of the lineup again in the series finale against Los Angeles.
Kipnis has scuffled at the plate for much of the season, batting .225 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs over 44 games. Since a 4-for-4 performance in a 10-1 win over Kansas City on May 28, Kipnis has managed only eight hits in his last 12 games, batting .178 over the span.
The Indians begin a seven-day, eight-game road trip with a four-game series against Central Division-leading Minnesota tonight at 8:10.
Carlos Carrasco (6-3, 3.66 ERA) opens the set for Cleveland, opposing LHP Nick Turley (0-0, 9.00).
Ryan Merritt (season debut) and Mike Clevinger (2-3, 4.09) will pitch for the Indians in a day-night doubleheader Saturday (2:10 p.m. and 8:10 p.m.), but the order has not been announced. The Twins will counter with LHP Adalberto Mejia (1-2, 5.75) in Game 1 but have yet to name a starter for the nightcap.
Trevor Bauer (5-5, 5.85) will go for Cleveland in the series finale Sunday (2:10 p.m.), while Minnesota will start RHP Kyle Gibson (4-4, 6.79).
The Indians are 4-2 against the Twins, winning all three games at Target Field.
- Left fielder Michael Brantley was not with the team and will be placed on the paternity list for the weekend, according to Francona.
- Edwin Encarnacion moved back into the cleanup spot Thursday, with Carlos Santana batting fifth. Santana snapped an 0-for-15 skid with a single in the fifth inning.