The minute Corey Kluber records the first out of the top of the second inning on Saturday, he will have surpassed his entire innings total from 2020.
The former two-time American League Cy Young Award winner with Cleveland will face the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium in the Yankees’ second game of the season, and he hopes for more than that on Saturday and this season, of course.
"There’s that anticipation for every first start of the season," the stone-faced Kluber said on Thursday before the Yankees lost their season opener to the Blue Jays, 3-2, in 10 innings. "Every start, honestly, throughout the year, I think there’s that level of anticipation the days building up to it. I’m not sure if [Saturday] will be any more or the same as usual. But I’m going to fall back on things I know work for me. If it does get to a point where that adrenaline gets going a little too much, finding ways to calm myself down. Trying to make it as normal as possible like I have in the past."
It’s Kluber’s past that the Yankees are investing $11 million in this season. His distant past — when he was one of the best pitchers in baseball from 2014-18 — not his more recent body of work.
In 2019, Kluber threw only 35 2/3 innings for Cleveland before having his right forearm fractured by a 102-mph line drive on May 1. That was 34 1/3 more than he threw for Texas in 2020, when a shoulder muscle tear ended his season after one inning.
Kluber, who will turn 35 on April 10, rehabbed under the watchful eye of guru Eric Cressey, who also happens to be the Yankees’ director of player health and performance.
That obviously gave the Yankees a leg up when it came to signing Kluber in the hopes that he can recapture his Cy Young form and become a co-ace with Gerrit Cole, or at least a solid No. 2.
The dream scenario for the Yankees has Cole, Kluber, Luis Severino, Jameson Taillon and Domingo German becoming a fearsome fivesome once Severino returns at midseason from Tommy John surgery, with Jordan Montgomery and Deivi Garcia pitching in, too.
The worst-case scenario has Cole standing alone as health issues return for Kluber, Severino and Taillon, German shows the rust after more than a year off the mound after a domestic violence suspension, and Montgomery and Garcia regress, as young pitchers often do.
None of that will be on Kluber’s mind when he climbs the Yankee Stadium mound on Saturday.
"It’s a great stadium to come to as a visitor," he said. "The facilities are great and stuff. But it’s a different feeling coming here having it be your home ballpark. The history of the organization and stuff, to put on that jersey means something, for sure. It’s something I’m looking forward to going out there, being able to pitch. It’s always a good atmosphere to play in. I think even though it’s limited fans, that’ll still apply."
Yes, the Yankees again will allow 10,850 fans into the stadium for Saturday’s game. Aaron Judge talked about how great it was to have fans in the stadium for the opener, even though the Yankees went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, left 10 runners on base and basically handed the game to Toronto with their lack of clutch hitting.
The Blue Jays scored the go-ahead run in the 10th on Randal Grichuk's line-drive double over the head of Judge in right.
"I let the team down twice there [at the plate] and even the ball over my head," said Judge, who went 1-for-5 with two strikeouts, hit into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the seventh and struck out with runners on first and second to end the ninth. "That’s another opportunity we could have at least held them or at least caught that or cut the guy off to keep him from scoring. Lot of missed opportunities from my part."