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Baseball sure is one humbling sport, pitcher one humbling profession.
Maybe tap the brakes on those “Corey Kluber, World Series Game 2 starter” fantasies?
Kluber and the Yankees spent the past week understandably riding the wave of the two-time American League Cy Young Award winner’s no-hitter May 19 against Texas, a mound phoenix rising from the ashes. The right-hander’s encore lasted a mere three innings before he departed, citing tightness in his right shoulder, in a game he and the Yankees lost, 6-2 to Steven Matz and the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium. A prognosis will be rendered on Wednesday after he undergoes an MRI exam.
Following the game, Kluber attempted to downplay fans’ worst fears, saying that this condition didn’t feel “at all” like what hit him last year — a Grade 2 tear of the teres major muscle in his right shoulder — and limited him to a single inning of work with the Rangers.
“Totally different,” said Kluber, who said he felt last year’s injury in a very specific area whereas this felt more “heavy,” generally.
Nevertheless, as even the eternally optimistic Aaron Boone said, “You’re always concerned when your starting pitcher comes out like that.”
For sure, a pitcher experiencing shoulder difficulties will never not set off alarms. That goes double for a pitcher who missed most of the past two seasons with a litany of ailments, most recently the aforementioned teres major muscle.
Given this history, we can expect the Yankees to place Kluber on the 10-day injured list out of an abundance of caution, regardless of what they learn from the testing. The Yankees didn’t pay Kluber $11 million, outbidding other aggressive suitors, in the hopes that he’d take every turn in the starting rotation. Rather, they wagered on his upside, which he displayed in the run of starts, culminating in the no-hitter, that gave him a sparkling 3.04 ERA even after the Jays touched him up Tuesday for a pair of runs in his three innings.
Such excellence helped the Yankees leap out of their early-season, 5-10 hole (to which Kluber contributed with his slow beginning), which is no small thing. You know, however, the Yankees did not have May in mind with their sizable commitment, but rather October. Though that’s a long way away, shoulder ailments, it can’t be stressed enough, scare the devil out of you.
In the short term, Deivi Garcia can get the call from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to substitute for Kluber, or the Yankees can turn to major league reliever Michael King, who followed Kluber in the fourth inning on Tuesday. In the medium term, former Yankees ace Luis Severino is on the trail back from his February 2020 Tommy John surgery. In the longer term, the Yankees can of course be active in advance of the July 30 trade deadline, contemplating possible options like the Nationals’ Max Scherzer or old pals J.A. Happ and Michael Pineda of the Twins.
The optimal term of Kluber’s injury, however, would be that this condition won’t prevent him from becoming an important playoff piece. Because the veteran showed, over the course of this season’s opening third, how well he fit the Yankees’ culture with his low-key, unshakeable approach. And his pitching style, relying more on precision than power, presented a welcome contrast in today’s strikeout-happy game.
Will Kluber’s no-no prove a negative turning point as Johan Santana’s did with the Mets nine years ago? “Who’s to say?” Boone said, in response to that question.
Besides increasing his innings workload for the night, Kluber didn’t throw an inordinate amount of pitches (101) to achieve history last week. And the schedule afforded him an extra day off, giving him six days between starts.
“[We’ll] wait until [Wednesday] and hopefully have an answer,” an admittedly frustrated Kluber said.
This is the business he has chosen. An awfully humbling one.
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