Corey Kluber: Making of a Maddux

Aggression, defense, brevity

Alex Hooper
August 04, 2018 - 11:34 pm
Aug 4, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber (28) celebrates in the dugout after pitching the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Progressive Field.

© Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – Throwing a complete game shutout in under 100 pitches is colloquially known as a ‘Maddux’ after the man who tossed 13 such outings in his career. It is the distant cousin of the no-hitter, and the closest such thing to blanking an opponent for pitchers.

The feat requires the same characteristics of the no-hitter or perfect game. Concise innings, limited damage, and flat-out, nasty stuff.

Corey Kluber had all of those things on Saturday night against the Los Angeles Angels, and thus too had his Maddux, finishing the game at 98 pitches.

It was the seventh CGSO of Kluber’s illustrious career, and his 17th complete game, tying him for ninth among active pitchers. All of Kluber’s complete games have come since the start of the 2014 campaign, the most in that span.

So how did it happen?

Aggressive hitters

Kluber had innings of 12, 11, 10, 8, 6 and 5 pitches in the game, keeping him fresh as the game went on, and suppressing the pitch count into Maddux territory.

The right-hander has become known for strikeouts, but indicated earlier in the season that he is welcoming the league’s home run surge by inducing early contact. Kluber’s contact% against is up to 76.7% in 2018 including an 89.2% rate in the zone, the highest marks for a full season in his career.

“When you know a team’s game plan is to be aggressive, if anything, you can maybe start off the count a little bit more on the corners as opposed to a third or something like that,” he said. “Instead of trying so much to get ahead, you’re more so trying to execute a pitch and if they are going to be aggressive, miss in the right spot. That’s maybe the only difference in our approach.”

Staying around the plate is helpful as well. Kluber issued just one walk and hit a batter in the game, only allowing multiple batters to reach base in the 3rd. He retired the final 10 Angels he faced.

Glorious defense

Nobody can throw a Maddux without some help. Just as the adage states every no-hitter needs one brilliant defensive play, the Maddux is no different.

Kluber’s came to lead off the 6th inning when Justin Upton flared a ball in between the pitcher’s mound and second base. Luckily, Francisco Lindor was in the area to do what he does best.

“It was essentially the same play that I whiffed on in Detroit the other day. He’s trying to come in and catch it in the air. When he realized he wasn’t going to be able to, to barehand it and still make the good throw is a really nice play.”

Manager Terry Francona was even caught off guard.

“That was an unbelievable play, and I was watching Kip because I thought he was the only one who had a chance and it took a funny hop on him and that was a great play,” he said.

A little push?

Being aggressive against aggressive hitters can pay large dividends, as Kluber showed, but the pitcher really had no other choice.

Angels starter Felix Pena spun a no-hitter of his own through five innings before Leonys Martin’s leadoff home run in the bottom of the 6th. Prior to the Angels’ 7th, Kluber had been pitching for the win.

“They squared up a couple balls, fortunately that went right to Yonder but it seemed like he was in command the entire night, and early we weren’t doing anything offensively, so it wasn’t like he had a cushion to pitch with,” Francona added.

The lack of offense early on was not the only adversity Kluber worked through, either. His personal catcher, Yan Gomes, was out of the lineup while dealing with right hamstring tendonitis.

“Regardless of who’s catching, one guy might catch a certain pitcher more often than not, but regardless of who’s catching, we all feel just as comfortable with the other one if they do end up catching you,” Kluber said. “That comes from being around each other for a while. From having a chance to work with each other. Talking. Simple as talking in the dugout. What they see you doing, or what you see them approaching guys. You build that relationship over time.”