Corey Kluber’s regular-season debut in 2020 lasted just one inning and served as his first and final appearance of the year.
On Saturday at Yankee Stadium, the veteran right-hander will finally get to take the mound again after passing all the steps of his comeback in order to make his Yankees debut.
“[The anticipation] is there for sure,” Kluber said before Friday’s off day, which followed a 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays on Opening Day. “There’s that anticipation for every first start of the season. 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, as far as, 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.”
The 34-year-old Kluber is coming off a spring training in which he made four starts in Grapefruit League play and built up to 73 pitches in his final appearance. He struggled with his command in his final two starts, walking a combined seven batters over seven innings after walking none through his first six innings, but most importantly remained healthy.
Kluber’s debut was cut short last season with the Rangers after just 18 pitches, with an MRI exam revealing a torn muscle in his right shoulder that kept sidelined him the rest of the year. That came after a 2019 season in which he made seven starts before being shut down with a broken forearm and an oblique strain.
But he felt healthy this spring, which was his main focus instead of any numbers or results.
“To me, I know what I want the ball to feel like coming out of my hand when things are right,” Kluber said. “On top of that, judging the way hitters are reacting to pitches and stuff like that. I think both those things went well, where I want them to be. So that’s kind of the biggest thing for me.”
Kluber got to take in Thursday’s game at Yankee Stadium, the first time he could call it home after signing a one-year, $11 million contract. He has made four career starts at Yankee Stadium as a visitor, all with the Indians, going 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA, the most recent one coming during his Cy Young-winning season in 2017.
“It’s a great stadium to come to as a visitor, the facilities are great and stuff,” Kluber said. “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 … [and] 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.”
Kluber will be facing a Blue Jays lineup that got to Gerrit Cole for two runs on five hits and two walks Thursday.
“First and foremost, they’re a young team with a lot of really talented hitters,” Kluber said. “Throughout their entire lineup, they have good hitters. There’s not anybody you can just look at and say, ‘I’m gonna take a breather on this guy.’
“I think a lot of times, with those younger lineups, [if] you let them start feeling confident, they get that aggressiveness rolling and they kind of just go bam-bam-bam. I’ve had it happen to me before throughout the course of my career. Just learning how to combat that.”