There was a time when this performance would have registered as a disappointing start by Corey Kluber.
Now is not that time. And it’s telling of the state of the Yankees that this performance is what encouragement looks like.
Kluber threw four scoreless frames before losing track of the plate, but he really was the least of the Yankees’ worries Wednesday night in a 4-1 loss to the Braves. A lack of run support created zero margin for error — and the 35-year-old, two-time Cy Young Award winner erred when he issued three walks in the fifth.
“With the expectations we all have for ourselves, it’s obviously hard to get past that fifth inning,” Kluber said. “If you are trying to look at the whole picture, I think there is a lot of good in the first four innings.”
On one hand, Kluber (0-2) demonstrated improvement by allowing two hits and walking four in 4 ²/₃ innings. He failed to get more than 12 outs in any of his first three starts since returning from a 2020-ending shoulder injury and put nine runners on base both times he survived four innings.
“I didn’t set an expectation for myself because there were a lot of unknowns that I had coming into it,” Kluber said. “As frustrated as I am with some of the results — free passes and things like that — I do honestly feel like I’m moving in the right direction. Things are really close to being at the point I’d like to be. Just wish it would arrive a little bit sooner.”
This actually had the makings of a throwback gem when Kluber retired 12 of the first 14 batters he faced, working around a one-out single in the second and a leadoff walk in the third. Then came the fifth, when 15 of his 29 pitches missed the strike zone, including 13 of the final 20 as the Braves’ lineup turned over.
“I wish I would’ve done a better job of making an adjustment in the middle of the inning and being able to lock back in,” Kluber said. “Have to go back and look at the stuff, and see if I can find anything to work on in the bullpen and identify what might’ve gone sideways.”
Kluber was pulled after Ehire Adrianza broke the scoreless tie with a sacrifice fly and Freddie Freeman walked on four pitches. Nick Nelson entered with the bases loaded and walked in a second run, which was the kiss of death with the Yankees not touching starter Ian Anderson.
On the other hand, it would be easier to swallow Kluber’s line as part of the process of rebuilding toward long-term reliability if he weren’t the No. 2 starter for a team that isn’t getting length from its rotation, clutch hits from its lineup or all of the routine plays from its defense.
It might be too-much, too-soon to ask him to go throw up zeros deep into a game, but payments on an $11 million contract are underway.
“It being cold and windy, at times it’s a little bit tough getting a feel,” manager Aaron Boone said. “I thought the stuff was good. He was generating a lot of soft contact. He gave us a chance. Obviously we just didn’t mount enough offense.”
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