The Yankees knew they were rolling the dice on Corey Kluber’s ability to bounce back. But with the team struggling, when is change warranted?
The Yankees have patiently sat through four starts, of which the team has won only once, and watched as Corey Kluber remains in a battle with himself.
Kluber’s last start against Atlanta was especially tough to watch, though it was typical of all of his starts.
Over 4.2 innings, only 61% (50-91) of Kluber’s pitches were strikes. He missed the Braves bats only six times and walked four batters, including three in the fifth inning when his outing went off the rails.
Even as a fan watching him throw pitch after pitch, seemingly aimed at a corner and without conviction, I couldn’t help but think there’s something “off” about Corey Kluber that has to do with more than rust.
The Yankees Make The Play
When the Yankees outbid the Tampa Bay Rays (did the Rays “play” the Yankees on that one?), signing Kluber to a one-year deal worth $11 million, they knew they were getting damaged goods.
The Yankees also knew of Kluber’s pedigree when he was the “Secretariat of Major League Baseball, the winner of two Cy Young awards, and fearless on the mound, challenging batters at will with an attitude that suggested, “Here it is, hit it if you can.”
How sweet it was like this video shows:
Regrettably, there’s little Aaron Boone or Yankee’s pitching coach Matt Blake can do for Kluber at this point, except to repeat what they’ve probably been saying since day one – “Corey, just go out there and trust your stuff.”
Kluber no longer hits the gun at 96 or 97, and his slider doesn’t have the bite it once had, but making adjustments is what pitching is all about, and so far, Kluber is either unable or unwilling to do so.
Yankees legend Andy Pettitte, for instance, made a decent living, getting hitters out consistently with fastballs and cutters that rarely exceeded 93 MPH, which is where Corey Kluber is now.
With thirteen games in a row on the Yankees schedule coming up, Kluber will surely get at least one more start before the Yankees skip him for at least one turn.
The Yankees Triple-A team in Scranton open their season this Tuesday, May 4, and as long as Kluber agrees, he could make a couple of pressure-off starts there.
Not a biggie, except the Yankees, surely hoped they wouldn’t need to take the plunge using their young and inexperienced arms this early in the season.
Kluber: The Old Gray Mare Ain’t What She Used To Be
There was a time, of course, when Corey Kluber could rear back and let it go, setting up batters for that swing and miss slider a foot off the plate for one of the 1,476 strikeouts during the course of his big league career.
At 35, Kluber has to know he isn’t and will never be that pitcher again. If he is physically okay, and there’s nothing to prove otherwise, then it has to be something else.
It was Yankees Hall of Famer Yogi Berra who explained, “Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.”
From outside the fishbowl looking in, what other conclusion can be drawn regarding Kluber’s tentativeness we see in his performances of late, other than this is something that he needs to correct, or face the consequence of the Yankees removing him from their immediate plans.
This will, if it happens, particularly sting Brian Cashman (as it should) because no one can (still) explain why Masahiro Tanaka is pitching in Japan this season instead of at Yankee Stadium.
It ain’t over til it’s over, and as Yogi also reminded us, “it sure gets late early out here,” referring to the sun creeping over the facade in the early afternoon when he was playing left field at the Stadium.
For the Yankees, it does seem to be getting late early in the season.
Can you imagine, for instance, this Yankees team ripping off eleven wins in a row as the “unmighty” Oakland A’s have done, now or at any point in this 2021 season?
Corey Kluber is merely a microcosm of what’s not right with the Yankees.
Run him out there, along with Aaron Hicks, Gary Sanchez, and sad to say, Clint Frazier – then hope for the best, clinging to the belief (yet to be proven) that the Yankees are the best team in the AL East.
Yankees: When Do The Chickens Come Home To Roost?
The Yankees gambled not only on Corey Kluber but each of the players above. Their regular lineup is the same as last year when healthy, and remarkably (Luke Voit excepted), it has been healthy.
Last night, Gleyber Torres pounded out three hits and a base-on-balls in six plate appearances. This followed a rare “chewing out” from Aaron Boone for not running out a ball hit in front of the plate the previous night.
Will there be a carryover tonight and into next week, or was it a momentary pause that Boone will need to light a fire under later in the season?
Big league ballplayers need to take care of their own “stuff.”
For the money they are being paid and the privileges and perks afforded to them, there shouldn’t be a need to “cheerlead” or to coddle them.
For $11 million, Corey Kluber needs to figure this out – now.
And if he can’t, then he needs to step aside like Jay Bruce did when he realized he couldn’t help the Yankees, choosing instead to retire.
All The Yankees Can Do Is Watch (For Now)
According to Baseball-Reference, Corey Kluber has received almost $72 million in salaries earned to date. If it’s a matter of needing the money this year, he should seriously consider hiring a new accountant.
It’s too rash and too early for both the Yankees and Kluber to be considering a parting of the ways – but from where Kluber sits, he owes it to himself as much as the Yankees to at least begin asking himself…
Am I as committed to this as much as I thought I was during all those idle days filled with nothing but rehab and dreams of stepping on the hill in a major league ballpark again?
And – do I realize my “rehab” has only just begun, and the hard work of transforming myself into a newer brand Corey Kluber is necessary if I wish to compete at this level seriously.
The Yankees can’t answer that for Corey Kluber, but surely the clock keeps on ticking before someone will have to make a move…
Stay tuned as everything points to Kluber’s next scheduled start in Baltimore Monday night.
Here’s What Readers Are Saying…
Sorry, Paul, but I did do my research…and you are free to read the results (which I didn’t feel the need to cite as it’s common knowledge)…https://www.mlb.com/…/corey-kluber-might-win…/c-95949202