After over three months on the shelf with a shoulder injury, Corey Kluber made his return to the New York Yankees on Monday night to open up the team’s three-game set against the Los Angeles Angels.
From the jump, it was going incredibly smoothly. Kluber got help from the offense in the form of a 2-0 lead and surrendered just one walk in his first 3.1 innings of action since May 25. Wow … we didn’t really expect that! He struck out six batters over that span too on an economical number of pitchers.
But then the wheels completely fell off for the right-hander. The Angels started jumping on the first pitch and his stuff all of a sudden began to look a bit more flat.
After Kluber struck out Shohei Ohtani looking, he surrendered three straight singles and his first earned run of the game. Then he walked a batter. Then came a grand slam. Just like that it was 5-2. If you took a break to make some late-night popcorn, you seriously may have missed it all.
Disappointing, sure. Surprising? Not at all. This was the two-time Cy Young winner’s first start in three months. What did you expect? Seven shutout innings? There was always going to be some rust. And there certainly wasn’t going to be longevity. This was Kluber’s first outing to “get right.”
Though the Yankees battled back to tie the game at 7-7, they eventually lost 8-7. Three straight losses certainly does not feel good, but this team is looking at the bigger picture. Get Kluber back on track for the postseason, rip through the Wild Card, and handle business after that.
Corey Kluber was looking good pre-implosion … and then the Yankees lost.
Once again, this was always the plan. Once Kluber went down with his shoulder issue, it was evident it’d be a while before he returned, and the Yankees weren’t going to bring him back a day earlier than they felt comfortable with.
When the team signed him to a one-year, $11 million contract in the offseason, nobody was banking on him living up to that money in the regular season. He had thrown just 36.2 innings since the start of 2019. How could you expect him to carry a heavy workload in his age-35 season?
The Yankees wanted (and still want) to get their money’s worth for down the stretch and the postseason. It’s undoubtedly frustrating that the Tampa Bay Rays keep on winning and the Bombers can’t seem to make up ground, but that’s simply the reality of the situation. New York isn’t surrendering, but it’s probably best to accept the fact they’ll be heading into October as a Wild Card team, barring an unforeseen collapse from the Rays, who are one of the top-three teams in baseball.
Kluber toeing the mound for the first time in three months to help the team get back on track after two straight losses isn’t ideal, but every long-term plan has its bumps along the way. If you’ve been watching the 2021 Yankees, you’d know almost everything is far from perfect with this team.
To preserve your mental health, starting thinking from a big-picture perspective. The Red Sox are dealing with a COVID outbreak, so it’s doubtful they’re going to win their series in Tampa (they already lost the first game). The Rays’ division lead has grown to seven games. All the Yankees can do is control their ability to win and health heading into October.
Kluber is part of that plan. He may not look great until later in the month, either. But that’s the price everyone’s going to have to pay to (hopefully) see him carving up lineups when the games matter most.
And again, you can blame this team for not beating the Orioles enough, and then blame the Orioles for going 1-18 against the Rays, if you’re so bent out of shape about the situation atop the AL East.