NEW YORK — Corey Kluber was so good, he even smiled.
The right-hander handcuffed Detroit batters Sunday to earn his 100th career win with his most dominant performance since 2018. The pitcher nicknamed Klubot for his robot-like demeanour grinned when congratulated in the dugout after his final inning.
“I'm not the most vocal or most emotional person in the clubhouse,” he explained after the Yankees' 2-0 victory, “but I wouldn’t say that I don't ever have a good time.”
A day after Jameson Taillon's first win in exactly two years, Kluber combined on a two-hitter that helped New York (14-14) complete its first series sweep this season and get back to .500 for the first time since the Yankees were 5-5.
Before last month, Kluber had pitched one inning since May 1, 2019, due to a broken forearm when hit by a comebacker and a torn shoulder muscle. Kluber challenged himself “to kind of get back to maybe a level you expect of yourself.”
“I tried to be realistic about it, that it probably wasn’t going to be just flip a switch and feel like I like to feel out there, I’m accustomed to feeling out there,” he said.
Kluber (2-2) looked like the pitcher who won AL Cy Young Awards with Cleveland in 2014 and 2017.
He allowed two hits in eight innings, walked one and struck out 10 to reach double digits for the 47th time but first since Sept. 24, 2018. Kluber threw 74 of 103 pitches for strikes.
"When he's in the zone, it's kind of like — good luck," said catcher Kyle Higashioka, who is gaining playing time from Gary Sánchez.
Kluiber's fastball was “only” 91 mph but he induced 18 swinging strikes — 13 alone on 83-86 mph changeups that tamed a Tigers team that saw its season batting average dropped to a major league-worst .195.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone appreciates Kluber's reserved demeanour.
“Obviously, he’s a little understated and quiet and methodical and workmanlike and very routine-oriented,” Boone said.
Kluber got 11 outs on grounders, two on infield popups and one on a lineout to second baseman Rougned Odor in short right field. Detroit's only flyout was by Robbie Grossman leading off the ninth against Aroldis Chapman, who struck out his next two batters to remain perfect in six save chances.
Kluber retired his final eight batters, reaching the Yankees’ season high for innings, and lowered his ERA to 3.03 — down from 6.10 after his third start.
“We could tell pretty early on that they, especially the lefties, were looking to jump on stuff on the inner part of the plate, whether it be a cutter or fastball," he said. “Once we got them sped up, the changeup was effective.”
New York won in 2 hours, 14 minutes, its shortest over nine innings since May 15, 2019.
“The first few weeks we didn't start like we wanted,” outfielder Brett Gardner said, “but the last week, week and a half, we have played a little better and hopefully, obviously, that continues into May, and as the weather heats up we’ll heat up as a team.”
Detroit has lost five straight and 10 of 11, dropping to a major league-worst 8-21. The Tigers have been blanked in three of their last four games and six times overall, on pace for 33 shutouts this season.
Just one of the Tigers' hitters started with a batting average higher than .226, Jeimer Candelario. Detroit batters struck out 12 times, increasing their total to 305 in 29 games.
“We have to keep fighting," catcher Wilson Ramos said.
José Ureña (1-4) was nearly as good as Kluber but was hurt by the smallest of margins.
Gio Urshela reached leading off the second on a dribbler that nicked third base for a single. Ureña walked slumping Aaron Hicks, and Higashioka hit an RBI double that kicked up the chalk on the left-field foul line. Gardner followed with a sacrifice fly that Grossman caught with a leap on the right-field warning track.
Ureña allowed two runs and three hits in seven innings, struck out seven and walked one, retiring his last 17 batters in yet another game this season in which pitchers excelled.
“Doesn’t make it worse or better or easier or harder,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “At the end of the day, you either won or you lost, and we’ve lost a lot.”
Seven of Higashioka's nine hits have been for extra bases (three doubles, four homers).
Tigers: OF Nomar Mazara (left abdominal strain) will start an injury rehabilitation assignment when Triple-A Toledo opens its season Tuesday, spending one game at DH and one in right field.
Yankees: 1B Luke Voit (knee surgery March 29) will start a rehab assignment at some point this week. ... C Robinson Chirinos (broken right wrist March 10) is on Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s roster for Tuesday’s opener at Syracuse, as is INF Derek Dietrich, who failed to make the Yankees roster in spring training.
Tigers: Hinch had not announced a starter for Tuesday’s series opener at Boston.
Yankees: Domingo Germán (2-2, 4.05 ERA) starts Tuesday’s series opener against Houston, coming off wins against Cleveland and Baltimore. Zack Greinke (2-1, 3.44) starts for the Astros, who will be playing in New York for the first time since their sign-stealing scheme became public after the 2019 season.
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