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Indians counting on Kluber in Game 5 — just as planned

John Perrotto

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CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 06: Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber (28) delivers a pitch to the plate during the first inning of the 2017 American League Divisional Series Game 2 between the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians on October 6, 2017, at Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH. Cleveland defeated New York 9-8 in thirteen innings. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

CLEVELAND — Terry Francona did not want a Game 5. Yet if there was a Game 5, it is the scenario the Cleveland Indians manager wanted.

The Indians will start ace Corey Kluber on Wednesday night against New York Yankees veteran left-hander CC Sabathia in the winner-take-all Game 5 of their American League Division Series at Progressive Field.

Francona surprisingly decided to start Kluber, the favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award for the second time in his career, in Game 2 while going with Trevor Bauer in the opener. Now Kluber will try to keep the Indians season alive after the Yankees won games at Yankee Stadium on Sunday and Monday to even the series 2-2.

The winner goes on the face the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series beginning Friday night.

“I I think we tried to be prepared for just about every scenario that could be thrown at us, and I think we feel real comfortable with how we went about everything and we wanted Kluber if we got to this game,” Francona said Tuesday before the Indians held an optional workout at Progressive Field.

“We got to this game. I understand [the media] have a job to do and I respect that, to a point. But we have a lot of information at our hands that we’re supposed to have, and we make the best judgments for our ballclub always, and I’m comfortable with where we are.”

After going 18-4 with a 2.25 ERA in 29 regular-season starts, Kluber had an awful outing in Game 2. He was rocked for six runs in 2 2/3 innings, though the Indians rallied for a 9-8 win in 13 innings.

Asked what he needed to improve on from that start, Kluber gave an all-encompassing answer.

“Everything,” he said. “I didn’t pitch well, didn’t have good command, didn’t throw the ball where I wanted to. So that’s kind of what it boils down to.”

However, Francona justifiably has faith in Kluber. In addition to tying for the AL in wins and topping it in ERA, Kluber was 11-1 with a 1.66 ERA and 0.78 WHIP in his last 14 regular-season starts.

“He just wasn’t himself,” Francona said of Kluber in Game 2. “He was having trouble getting ahead, and then when he did, he was having trouble putting hitters away.

“Now, like we kind of know Klubes, he went out and had a really good side day, which if anybody’s been around him for 5 minutes, his side days are not side days. They’re game on. And my feeling is that he’ll be just fine [Wednesday].”

The Indians could also get a boost offensively as designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion could be healthy enough to play Wednesday night after sustaining a sprained right ankle in the first inning of Game 2.

Encarnacion batted .258/.377/.504 with 38 home runs and 107 RBIs in 157 games during the regular season after being signed to a three-year, $60 million contract in the offseason as a free agent. The Indians scored a combined three runs without him in losing Games 3 and 4.

While having Encarnacion in the lineup would help, a dominant performance from Kluber is what the Indians really need.

Kluber is noted for never showing emotion on the mound and he plans to take the same approach in Game 5.

“You’ve got to go out there as a pitcher and execute your pitches, and hitters are going to try to take advantage of your mistakes,” Kluber said. “It boils down to it’s still the same game, still 27 outs, all that kind of stuff.”

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John Perrotto has been a professional sports writer since 1982 and has covered a multitude of sports, including MLB, NFL and college football and basketball. He has been a member of the Baseball Writers' Association since 1988, a Hall of Fame voter since 1997 and has covered 21 World Series and two Super Bowls. He is a graduate of Geneva College, the birthplace of college basketball, and lives in Beaver Falls, Pa,., the hometown of Joe Willie Namath.

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