Before Game 2 of the World Series, the only game the Cleveland Indians lost in the 2016 playoffs was Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, which ace Corey Kluber started on three days rest.
Kluber wasn’t altogether ineffective in that 5-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, allowing two runs on our hits with two walks, seven strikeouts and one home run in five innings (those are the only two runs he's allowed in the playoffs). He only threw 89 pitches in that game; three days before, he fired 100 in Game 1 of the ALCS. But beyond the results, how different was Kluber as a pitcher on three days rest?
“Last time was my first time doing it, so I didn't know what to expect how I was going to feel,” Kluber said Friday. “Now that I do know that I felt fine, it's just a matter of using those three days to recover. I'll be fine tomorrow and then just go out there and pitch.”
Velocity-wise, Kluber didn’t experience a drop-off on three days rest as compared to the six days he had off before the World Series: He actually threw his two-seam sinker and four-seism fastball slightly harder against the Blue Jays than he did against the Cubs, according to TexasLeaguers.com. The spin rate on his two-seam sinker was actually higher on three days rest than it was in his first World Series start, too (according to MLB.com, “most experts have agreed that fastballs and breaking balls are tougher to hit when they possess higher Spin Rates.”).
So the Cubs can certainly expect the same stuff they saw from Kluber in Game 1. But the biggest difference between short rest Kluber and regular/extended rest Kluber was his effectiveness throwing that sinker for strikes.
Against the Cubs, Kluber threw 24 of his 30 sinkers for strikes, and the Cubs only put five of those in play. It was a masterful showing of how to pitch a patient lineup that hadn’t seen him in 2016, with the movement on that pitch and the threat of him mixing in an effective curveball and slider breezily working through the Cubs’ lineup over six innings.
But against Toronto, Kluber frequently missed low with his sinker (he had five called below the strike zone for balls) and gave up a home run on one to right-hander Josh Donaldson. Only nine of the 33 sinkers he threw were called strikes, compared to 14 sinkers called for strikes against the Cubs.
Both Kluber and the Cubs will make adjustments heading into Game 4, with Kluber having a better idea of how to prepare on three days’ rest and the Cubs lineup having a better idea of the action on Kluber’s pitches. But no matter how many days off he’s had, Kluber is one of the very best pitchers in baseball, and the Cubs’ best shot at getting to him Saturday night looks to be if he’s not as pinpoint with his sinker.
“The guys got to see him, so there won't be as much of a surprise the next time he pitches,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “You have to — i.e. (Clayton) Kershaw, the first game he pitched here, extremely sharp with everything. The next game we saw him not as sharp. So you just don't know. It's difficult for pitchers to replicate time after time, especially against the same team, especially with shorter rest to be as sharp. But he may be. Not that it's an advantage, only in the sense that we have seen him relatively just a couple days ago.
“So hopefully that works to our advantage. But you've got to wait until the game's actually played to find out how sharp he is.”