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The Corey Kluber comeback

The Yankees’ 2021 season got off to a bit of a rocky start on Thursday. Gerrit Cole was solid, but the offense was stymied by the Blue Jays’ pitching staff in a 3-2 extra-innings loss. The Yankees are off today, then they conclude their series against Toronto with a couple of games this weekend.

Saturday’s big story will undoubtedly be Corey Kluber’s return to regular season baseball. Kluber only pitched one inning in 2020 for the Texas Rangers before being sidelined with a torn teres major muscle. His 2019 season was also cut short by a series of unfortunate injuries. Tomorrow’s start will be a milestone in Kluber’s hard-fought comeback—a chance to throw multiple innings for the first time since May 1, 2019.

Reasons to Be Hopeful

Corey Kluber was impressive in his four spring training appearances. In those four games, Kluber pitched 13 innings and surrendered just 4 earned runs (2.77 ERA). He managed to strike out 14 batters (a very strong 9.7 K/9), and he only allowed one home run. While Kluber walked a lot of hitters (7 total, 4.9 BB/9), he managed to strand them on the basepaths more often than not.

Admittedly, I’ve never been one for attaching great importance to spring training stats. In Kluber’s case, however, spring training numbers are essentially all that we have to go on. Corey is an accomplished, veteran pitcher with a lot of career success, but he hasn’t pitched meaningful innings in a long time. For that reason, I’m putting a bit more stock into his performance down in Tampa.

As far as tomorrow’s matchup is concerned, Kluber may have a slight advantage over the Jays. Because he hasn’t pitched very much since 2018, Kluber hasn’t faced any of Toronto’s young stars. In fact, outside of Marcus Semien, Kluber hasn’t faced a single player from the Blue Jays’ probable lineup. Generally speaking, a pitcher tends to have a bit of an advantage over a hitter when they square off for the first time. Hopefully, that general rule holds true when Kluber takes on Toronto tomorrow afternoon.

The Importance of Corey Kluber

Saturday’s start isn’t just important for Kluber personally, it’s hugely important for the Yankees. While the result of a single game in April isn’t particularly significant, the development of Corey Kluber is. If he can recapture just a bit of his old magic, then Kluber could become a critical part of the Yankees’ 2021 formula. The starting rotation could be a team strength this year, but that hinges on whether or not Kluber, amongst others, can pitch to his potential.

I’m hopeful that tomorrow works out well for Corey, and that his career in pinstripes gets off to a strong start. There will certainly be a buzz in the Bronx as he takes the bump for his first outing of the year.