Corey Kluber rebounded from a pair of subpar outings to throw shutout ball for the first four innings against Atlanta on Wednesday night at chilly, windy Yankee Stadium.
If only it could have ended there for the two-time AL Cy Young Award winner.
Kluber’s good start was left with a mild bad taste as he walked three and couldn’t get out of the fifth.
In 4 2/3 innings, Kluber was charged with two runs and gave up two hits with four walks and two strikeouts. The Yankees trailed 2-0 after five innings.
Still, it was a step in a hopeful direction for Kluber, who was pushed by manager Aaron Boone to a place he hadn’t gone in two years.
Kluber threw 91 pitches, the most since he threw 98 for Cleveland on April 26, 2019. Only 50 of his pitches on Wednesday were strikes, though, and Kluber left after walking Freddie Freeman to load the bases with two outs in the fifth and the Yankees trailing 1-0 on Ehrie Adrianza’s sacrifice fly one batter earlier.
Nick Nelson came in and walked Marcel Ozuna on four pitches to make it 2-0. Yankees pitchers walked four in a five-batter span before Nelson struck out Travis d’Arnaud to end the inning.
Kluber started well with an 11-pitch, 1-2-3 first inning that included a pair of infield pop-ups.
Ozzie Albies lined a one-out single to left in the second and moved to second when Kluber threw a down-and-in fastball that whizzed by Gary Sanchez and was scored a wild pitch. Sanchez was set up outside and whiffed on the pitch, which went through the legs of plate umpire Manny Gonzalez and to the backstop.
Kluber shrugged off the mishap, though, getting Pablo Sandoval on a fly ball to right and Dansby Swanson on a grounder to short.
There was more drama in the third, when Kluber temporarily lost the strike zone. He walked Austin Riley on four pitches to open the inning before falling behind No. 9 hitter Guillermo Heredia 2-and-1.
The next pitch was a hanging slider. Crushable. But Heredia hit a harmless fly ball to left for the first out.
Adrianza following with a potentially more harmless short fly ball to left. Clint Frazier sprinted in and caught it with a violent dive that left Frazier with his cap over his face as he threw to first in an attempt at a double play.
Next up was Freeman. Kluber fell behind 3-and-0. Control trouble again, or a way to pitch around the dangerous Freeman?
Kluber recovered to sneak three consecutive called strikes past Freeman, the last one on a backdoor slider that caught the outside corner to end the inning.
After a 1-2-3 fourth, Sandoval one-hopped the rightfield fence for a leadoff single in the fifth. Kluber stuck out Swanson, but then walked the eighth- and ninth-place hitters, both on 3-and-2 pitches, leading to Atlanta’s two runs.
After allowing one earned run in five innings to Toronto in an impressive Yankees debut on April 3, Kluber struggled in his next two outings. He came into Wednesday with a 0-1 record and a 6.10 ERA.
On April 9 vs. Tampa Bay, Kluber was charged with five runs (three earned) in 2 1/3 innings. Five days later, he gave up three runs in four innings against the Blue Jays. In 10 1/3 innings, Kluber had surrendered 16 hits, including three home runs, and walked seven.
"I feel like stuff wise and where he's at, he's really close," Boone said before the game. "I feel like the movement quality’s there. When I think of Cory, it's movement of pitches and the precise nature in which he throws those. I feel like that's the final piece to this, is really just being real precise. I feel like he's been close to that and confident he'll go out and take another step tonight."