When the New York Yankees started the 2021 season 5-10, with general manager Brian Cashman telling the media that the team had played a 15-game stretch they’d like to forget, the assumption from many observers around baseball was that the Bronx Bombers’ offense would eventually come around, with the likes of DJ LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge anchoring the lineup.
The real question marks surrounded the pitching staff, with the success of the group hinging on the success of Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon and Domingo German.
Wednesday night represented the high point of what has been a resurgent season for Kluber as the 35-year-old two-time Cy Young Award winner threw his first career no-hitter and the sixth in the majors this season, blanking the Texas Rangers 2-0. For Kluber, who threw just one inning in 2020 in his only season with the Rangers, a one-out walk in the third inning to Charlie Culberson was the only blemish on his night.
In nine starts this season, Kluber sports a 2.86 ERA with a 1.17 WHIP in 50⅓ innings and has been the rotation’s second-best starter behind ace Gerrit Cole, who sports a 2.03 ERA and 0.78 WHIP in 57⅔ innings pitched in nine starts.
“That was so much fun to be a small part of, to see Corey go out and spin that,” manager Aaron Boone said. “It truly was a privilege. I had butterflies in that ninth inning, getting a little emotional now. Getting to witness that was special and to see his teammates and the excitement of everyone for Corey, just the excitement for themselves being a part of such a thing. What a performance. What can you say?”
The question of durability hung over the Yankees rotation at the start of the season, with the trio of Kluber, German and Taillon combining for just one start during 2020. Over the course of the season, Kluber had built his pitch count up, posting a strong month of May with a 1.88 ERA and 0.77 WHIP in 28⅔ innings over four starts after an April in which the righty posted a 4.15 ERA and 1.71 WHIP over 21⅔ innings.
A season-long return to form for Kluber would be a blessing for the New York pitching staff. In his last full season in 2018, Kluber made 33 starts, posting a 2.89 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 5.9 bWAR, but he pitched just 36⅔ innings between the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
The Yankees entered the season as heavy favorites to win the American League East, but currently find themselves in a four-team pack, 1½ games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox, who got off to a hot start with an offense led by J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers and a surprising rotation that has gotten strong performances from Nick Pivetta, Garrett Richards and Martin Perez.
Given the apparent strength of the division, the Yankees will need Kluber to maintain the form he displayed during his no-hitter against the Rangers, when he threw 101 pitches against his former team while striking out nine batters.
Corey Kluber strikes out nine, walks just one, as he completes his first career no-hitter in a 2-0 Yankees win.
“Corey has come here and become entrenched in our culture, embraced in the clubhouse, beloved by everyone,” Boone said. “I’m excited for him and his story and what he’s been through.”
Back in January, Kluber conducted a bullpen session tryout in front of scouts from two-thirds of MLB teams. Between 2019 and 2020, Kluber suffered three separate injuries, fracturing his right arm after getting hit by a line drive in a game in early 2019, and then was shut down during his rehab with an abdominal injury. During his one season in Texas, Kluber suffered a muscle issue in the back of his throwing shoulder.
“My low moment was after that first inning in Texas just because I had spent over a year working my butt off to get to that point,” Kluber told ESPN’s Jesse Rogers in January. “One of the things I wanted to make sure that I did while I was hurt [in 2019] was piece together that puzzle and what had gone sideways and how do I get on track.”
After Wednesday, it seems Kluber has gotten back on track.
Said Boone: “He’s got another defining and special moment.”