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Indians 3, Rays 0: Kluber wins an extraordinary pitching duel

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But Rays fans have an arm to dream on.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

How do you beat a Kluber?

Well, you can hope that he’s off. Sometimes that works. But more often than not, a Kluber is good, and sometimes he’s great.

He’ll put his fastball up and on the outer edge where you have trouble reaching it, and usually can’t pull it with power if you do. Then he’ll cut it down and in, under your swing. That’s what he did to Ji-Man Choi in the first inning, when Choi had an early opportunity with two men on and no outs. Corey Kluber sat Choi down on three different pitches in three differrent spots.

He’ll run his sinker back from the outside to catch the corner. Or maybe he doesn’t actually catch the corner, but the umpire will give him the strike anyway, because he’s Corey Kluber, and also because that location, off the plate, was exactly where he was trying to throw it, so catcher Jan Gomes was already set up there, ready to frame. Jake Bauers, a rookie who tries to maintain strike zone discipline, was foiled and frustrated by a called strike sinker like this in the second inning.

I said right then, “If Kluber gets that pitch, this’ll be a long night.”

It was a long night.

He’ll start his curve in the zone, and it’ll frisbee so much—more than nearly any other offering in all of baseball—that it ends up on your back foot while you’re swinging six inches away. That’s what he did to Joey Wendle in the fifth.

So how do you beat a Kluber?

You have to take some aggressive swings at pitches at the edge of the zone, and you have to make contact, and because you probably can’t drive those well-located strikes, you have to find a hole. You have to cluster a few of these hits. You have to manage to be aggressive and lucky without getting overaggressive, because then a Kluber will have you swinging at junk.

Or maybe you need one good swing. Maybe you go up looking for a pitch and you get it, and even though it’s a pretty good pitch in a pretty good spot, well gosh darnit, you’re a someone too. Every once in a while, a good hitter hits a good pitch hard.

The other thing that helps to beat a Kluber, is to have something kind of like a Kluber. From what we’ve seen in his short time in Tampa Bay, a Glasnow might be a little bit like a Kluber.

A Glasnow will blow his triple-digits fastball by you at the top of the zone, and you won’t be able to catch up. Then he’ll bring it low and on the inside, and again you won’t be able to catch up. He’ll plop his low-80s curve into the top of the zone, and you’ll take it for a strike, because with an initial trajectory that high you’d be crazy to be swinging. He’ll drop his mid-80s slider off the table, onto the plate, and you’ll find yourself swinging at a pitch in the dirt, and then you’ll do it again one pitch later, because while seeing is believing, that type of depth on a slider is just really hard to believe. He’ll even, a few times, drop that same slider only to the bottom of the zone, to keep you honest—this one is new.

So, how do you beat a Glasnow?

Or maybe you need one good swing. Maybe you go up looking for a pitch and you get it, and even though it’s a pretty good pitch in a pretty good spot, well gosh darnit, you’re a someone too. Every once in a while, a good hitter hits a good pitch hard.

In the seventh inning, Glasnow threw a first-pitch curve to Edwin Encarnacion. It wasn’t dropped into the top, but rather placed in the lower third, on the outside edge of the zone. That’s not a pitch that’s going to fool a batter into taking a strike, but it’s also not a hanger. Decent location. First pitch, when the batter is probably thinking fastball. Plenty of movement.

As Rays fans well know, Edwin Encarnacion is a someone. Tip your cap.

The final lines had Glasnow giving up the one run while Kluber gave up none, over seven innings each. Both starters gave up two hits. Glasnow walked one and struck out six. Kluber walked two and struck out eight. Those seven innings took Kluber 109 pitches. It took Glasnow only 79.

I think this was the best pitched game I’ve watched all year.

Some other notes:

  • In the top of the third inning, the broadcast interviewed Ken Rosenthal, who said he’s a sucker for the Rays (saying that he always believes the Rays front office when they say they’re better than people think). He also talked about the opener strategy, and how other teams are exploring it as well, because it’s worked. Rosenthal’s the single biggest expert on the pulse of the league, so I’ll believe him when he says other teams are evaluating the experiment as a success.
  • It’s really hard to see how Glasnow struggled in Pittsburgh. He’s been so good since he arrived in Tampa Bay.
  • Ryne Stanek pitched the eighth inning, and Adam Moore took over catching duties, after starter Jesus Sucre was pinch-hit for. Let’s say it was a poor showing from Moore and leave it at that.