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CLEVELAND (AP) — With every win, every strikeout and with an almost robotic efficiency, Corey Kluber has quietly become one of the AL's best pitchers.
And, just maybe, its Cy Young Award winner.
With a cache of devastating pitches, the 27-year-old Kluber has developed into a cold-blooded terminator from 60 feet, 6 inches away. He's among the league's leaders in wins, strikeouts, ERA and virtually all other sabermetrics used by the statistical geeks who look much deeper than win-loss record.
Sooner than anyone, including the Indians, would have predicted, Kluber, who only made his big-league debut in 2011, has arrived.
"It's not smoke and mirrors," manager Terry Francona said. "Everything he's done this year has been so legit."
Stoic and steady, Kluber has been dubbed "Klubot" for his neutral demeanor.
Opposing hitters are calling him something else.
"As far as a righty this year, he's the best pitcher I've seen," Royals outfielder Alex Gordon said. "You have to tip your cap to him, which we've done a lot of this season."
Kluber will take a 17-9 record into his last start of the season Friday night against Tampa Bay. It's one last chance for him to sway any BBWAA voters who may be considering Seattle's Felix Hernandez or others. Hernandez was roughed up in his last start, opening the door for Kluber to strengthen his Cy Young case.
If his next outing is anything close to his previous two, the Rays are in for a long night.
Kluber has recorded 14 strikeouts in his past two starts, becoming the first pitcher since Randy Johnson in 2004 to have consecutive 14-strikeout games. The right-hander is 4-0 with a 1.39 ERA since Sept. 6, and with 258 strikeouts, he's the first Cleveland pitcher to eclipse 250 Ks in a season since "Sudden" Sam McDowell in 1970.
He's done it under the radar and with little fanfare. If Kluber played in Boston or New York, there would be Red Sox or Yankees fans naming newborns after him.
Kluber showed promise last season, when he went 11-5 in 24 starts but was slowed by a month on the disabled list with a sprained finger. The Indians were hoping he could build off that success and perhaps fall in behind ace Justin Masterson as Cleveland's No. 2 starter this season. But when Masterson struggled and was traded in July, Kluber's profile rose.
He's the staff ace, and as far as Francona's concerned, Kluber's only getting started.
"It's amazing what confidence and knowledge can do for a player," Francona said. "I don't think his thirst for anything is going to diminish. He's going to continue to want to be better and better."
Kluber's season would be better, but the offensively challenged Indians haven't hit or scored for him. They're averaging just 1.1 runs in his nine losses, forcing him to be nearly perfect every time he takes the mound. That's a tough way to pitch at any level, let alone in the majors.
But in his past three starts, the Indians have scored 19 runs.
"I was tired of him getting that Felix Hernandez treatment," center fielder Michael Bourn said. "For three years, Hernandez got like no run support and was only giving up like one run a game. As a teammate, you don't want to see that happen and the last four games we've been able to get him some support. He deserves it."
As the season's progressed, Bourn has been approached by opposing hitters who have praised Kluber, inexplicably left off the All-Star team.
"I've had people say, 'That dude is nasty,'" Bourn said. "He's in that category now where teams aren't looking forward to facing him. I've been watching it from the outfield, and I'm glad I don't have to face him. If I did, I know one thing, I would swing at four pitches in four at-bats against him. He's one of those pitchers that you don't want to get deep into the count with.
"His arsenal is too big. He can get you with a cutter. He can get you with a front-door, two-seamer (fastball). He can get you with a change-up, slider. That's too much. And, he's smart. The best thing about him is that he's thinking along with the hitter, he's not just out there throwing. He's working guys."
Gordon feels lucky to have had some early success against Kluber. It's been a lot of swing and misses since.
When Kluber made his first major league start in 2012, Gordon homered on the right-hander's first pitch and Kluber gave up six runs and six hits while facing 10 batters in the first inning.
"I didn't know him at all," Gordon recalled. "I said, I'm going to go after the first pitch. We batted around and I came up again, feeling pretty good, and he started mixing up pitches and he struck me out on three pitches. I thought, well, I'm glad I got him the first time up."
During the Royals visit this week, Gordon approached Kluber in the outfield during batting practice.
"I told him, 'Thank you for not pitching against us this series, we're finally going to miss you,'" Gordon said. "I told him it's been pretty special watching him pitch."
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