5/7/2014 6:47 P.M. ET
Kluber boasts improved swing-and-miss rate
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- Corey Kluber has not been looking for strikeouts, but they have certainly found the Indians starter through the first six weeks of this season.
As a pitcher who relies heavily on a two-seam sinker, Kluber is more focused on inducing weak contact and working efficiently with his pitches. Through seven starts, the right-hander has also piled up 48 strikeouts to lead Cleveland's rotation.
"I don't feel like I'm doing anything different," Kluber said. "If I had to guess, I'd probably just say I'm consistently executing pitches a little more often. Maybe I'm not quite making as many mistakes and, if I do make a mistake, maybe I'm making a mistake to the right area instead of missing over the middle of the plate, and they're fouling it off rather than putting a good swing on it."
According to brooksbaseball.net, which compiles PITCHf/x data, Kluber had a swing-and-miss rate of 15.3 percent outside the strike zone, which is up from 12.7 percent in 2013. His miss rate on pitches inside the zone has dropped to 7.1 percent this year from 9.2 percent last season, meaning he is getting batters to chase more often so far in '14.
Kluber said that is a product of working ahead in the count, which is backed up by his 60.7 percent first-pitch strike rate. The righty has also registered strikes 66.2 percent of the time overall, compared with 64.4 percent over the course of his career.
On Sunday against the White Sox, Kluber struck out 13 batters (his second double-digit showing of the season) and he also set a franchise record with seven consecutive whiffs.
"I don't ever try to strike guys out," Kluber said. "I think it's just a product of executing pitches. I think I'm fortunate enough to have a couple pitches that I can get swings and misses with, if the situation presents itself. You still have to execute it, but I don't ever go into an at-bat [thinking strikeout].
"Maybe with the occasional runner on third, less than two outs, you might be like, 'This is a situation where a strikeout would help us,' but I still don't approach it as I want to get the guy to swing and miss at every pitch.
"You try to work ahead in the count, put the pressure on them and then, if you do get to that situation, then you can try to put them away."
Bourn could return to lineup on Thursday
CLEVELAND -- Michael Bourn finished a baserunning workout at Progressive Field prior to Wednesday's game against the Twins and the center fielder gave Indians bench coach Brad Mills a fist bump as he headed back to the clubhouse.
Bourn was pleased with the session, which was aimed at giving his left hamstring one more test before Cleveland cleared him to return to game action. Bourn passed and the center fielder might be ready to rejoin the lineup as early as Thursday's 12:05 p.m. ET tilt against Minnesota.
"Bourny thinks he's ready to play tomorrow," Indians manager Terry Francona said Wednesday. "That's kind of encouraging, because it's a noon game. I think we were thinking maybe Friday at the latest, but Bourny thinks he's ready to go. That's good."
Bourn exited Saturday's game with tightness in the hamstring, which is the same one that required a trip to the disabled list to open the season after he strained it during Spring Training. It is also the same hamstring that Bourn had surgically repaired on Oct. 15, after he tore it while trying to stealing a base in Cleveland's final regular season game.
Needless to say, the Indians plan on using caution with Bourn's latest return. Beginning Friday, the Indians will embark on a six-game, seven-day road trip with games on artificial turf at Tampa Bay and Toronto. Bourn might be out of the lineup Saturday with Rays left-hander Erik Bedard on the mound and Cleveland has a scheduled off-day Monday.
"I think we'd always use common sense," Francona said. "Some of that's going to be determined by how he feels. The one thing, we are going on turf. I think the lefty is the middle day in Tampa, so that seems like it's an easy one. And then we have a day off when we go to Toronto. It should be OK."
When Bourn injured the hamstring during the spring, the center fielder said he lost some strength in his leg. With the latest issue, he indicated that strength has not been a problem. That has led both Bourn and the Indians' medical team to believe the current setback was a case of scar tissue breaking up in the hamstring.
"I'm going to go out there and try to play," Bourn said. "They think it's ready and I think it's ready. When you first get out there, of course you're a little careful with it, because you don't want to hurt it again. At the same time, you've got to be aggressive, because it's part of playing the game.
"Hopefully this is the end of it. If it's not, I'm going to keep pushing until it is the end of it."
Tomlin says time in Triple-A benefited him
CLEVELAND -- Josh Tomlin surely would have preferred to be in the Opening Day rotation for the Indians, but the right-hander also understood why the Indians felt they were best served depth-wise by sending him to Triple-A Columbus to start the season.
In hindsight, Tomlin also feels the stint in the Minors was beneficial, especially given that he is still finding his form after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow in August 2012.
"[It was good] just to get the legs underneath you again," Tomlin said. "To be in that starting rotation down there and going every fifth day and getting six innings, seven innings, eight, nine, whatever it is, getting the feet wet, knowing what it feels like to get up and down that many times, I needed that. I definitely needed that."
In his first start for the Indians on Tuesday, Tomlin logged 6 2/3 innings against the Twins, limiting them to one run on four hits with four strikeouts and one walk. The righty ended the evening with 93 pitches, including 66 strikes, and he registered 17 first-pitch strikes to the 24 batters he faced. As a result, Tomlin earned his first win in the Majors since July 5, 2012.
Tomlin's showing was a continuation of his work in Triple-A, where he posted a 2.06 ERA and 0.89 WHIP across 35 innings in five starts. Along the way, he racked up 28 strikeouts compared with nine walks for the Clippers. The right-hander had also reeled off 20 straight shutout innings before being promoted to Cleveland for Tuesday's outing.
When the Indians chose to go with Carlos Carrasco over Tomlin for the lone rotation vacancy at the end of the spring, part of the reasoning was that Carrasco (now in Cleveland's bullpen) was out of Minor League options. Cleveland also felt that Tomlin -- given his comeback -- could benefit from getting regular work without the immediate pressure of the Major League stage.
Indians manager Terry Francona was pleased to hear Tomlin echoed that sentiment.
"It's hard to tell a guy that," Francona said. "The one thing we were trying to be very respectful of was that Josh had gotten to a point where he wasn't rehabbing anymore. ... There were a lot of things that we discussed towards the end of spring. When it came down to it, one of the things that we didn't think was bad was him pitching and getting some innings in the Triple-A environment.
"That wasn't the end all, be all, but I think we all thought there was nothing wrong with that."
Quote to note
"It's not his fault he's 38 and gray. He can still pitch. He just happens to look like the groundskeeper for the Red Sox."
-- Francona, on reliever Scott Atchison
• The Indians made an error in each of the final two innings during Tuesday's 4-2 win over the Twins, giving the Tribe 33 errors through 33 games this season. That put the Tribe in a tie with the Dodgers for the most errors in the Majors. The second miscue (a mishandled grounder by shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera in the ninth) paved the way for a run for Minnesota.
"Last night was an instance where it didn't cost us the game, but it certainly could've," Francona said. "We put ourselves in a position where, with our defense, we allowed the tying run to come to the plate. If you do that often enough, it'll come back and bite you. We care a lot about it. I think our players do, too.
"It's something that we're trying to figure out how we can do it better. I don't think it's effort. I think we're just making some errors. Guys were out there early today. As the weather gets better, you'll see more guys out early. It's something we definitely want to do better and need to do better."
• Indians first baseman Nick Swisher went 2-for-4 in Tuesday's win, contributing a double and a run in the first inning and an RBI single in the second against the Twins. Heading into the game, Swisher had been mired in a 2-for-25 (.080 average) slump over eight games to drop his average to .197 on the season.
"He swung the bat much better," said Francona, who noted that a handful of Swisher's recent outs have been hard-hit balls as well. "He's hit some balls hard. That's what good hitters to. You keep hitting balls hard and you keep using the whole field, because if you do, you'll get hot. It never fails."
• Indians outfield prospect Clint Frazier, who was selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, went 3-for-4 with a double, walk and stolen base for Class A Lake County on Tuesday. Frazier headed into Wednesday riding a seven-game hitting streak, in which he's hit .375 (12-for-32) with one homer, three doubles and four RBIs.