TAMPA — Corey Kluber might be a three-time All-Star and a two-time Cy Young award winner, but he acknowledges that he is now just part of a group of aspirants for a spot in the 2021 new-look Yankees rotation.
“I understand why it’s looked as ‘Gerrit and the rest,'” said Kluber, in reference to the question marks surrounding a Yankees rotation in which the only pitcher without any concerns is Gerrit Cole, the team’s $324 million ace. “I get that. There’s some guys without a lot of experience. There’s some guys that are coming back from injury. As a group, we can’t pay attention to that. We just have to do our best job of preparing ourselves and being in a position that, hopefully, pitch a lot and kind of take away those question marks at the end of the year.”
Kluber’s use of the phrase “Gerrit and the rest” comes from the uncertainties in the Yankees’ pitching staff ahead of the 2021 season. After losing pitchers Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ to free agency, the Yankees will have to depend on several arms coming back from injury, including Kluber and fellow new signing Jameson Taillon (UCL surgery).
Despite a 98-58 record and a 3.16 ERA over 10 seasons in the majors, Kluber has been plagued by injuries in back-to-back years. He suffered a fractured forearm in 2019 after being hit by a comebacker. And a shoulder tear limited Kluber to a single inning in 2020, his first year with the Texas Rangers after being acquired via trade in the offseason.
Kluber addressed the media after throwing his first official bullpen in pinstripes this spring, stating he is on track heading into the 2021 campaign.
“I feel really good right now. No issues with it now or anywhere along the rehab process,” Kluber said of his right shoulder, where he suffered a Grade 2 tear of the teres major muscle that did not require surgical repair. “Honestly, the way that I would describe it now is I feel like I’m in a normal spot for spring training. I don’t feel like I’m still working on improving the shoulder or anything like that.”
Kluber, one of the many players who went through an offseason full of doubts before agreeing to a one-year, $11 million deal with the Yankees, had high praise for the club, calling it “the measuring stick for any professional sports organization.”
He also extended his admiration and respect for Cole, who on Thursday called himself a longtime fan of Kluber’s and described him as “a true craftsman.”
“Gerrit’s success speaks for itself. He’s one of the best pitchers in the game,” Kluber said. “I think overpowering is probably the first word that comes to mind. Just the way he’s able to suffocate lineups, pretty much three, four times through. Obviously, he has outstanding stuff. But stuff only goes so far. You can see, when you watch him and you pay attention, how well he understands pitching, and how he can use that extremely impressive stuff that he has to go out there and just overpower lineups.”
In addressing whether the start-and-stop nature of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season contributed to his shoulder injury, Kluber admitted he is still in the dark as to what caused it.
“I wish I had an answer,” he said. “I spent a little bit of time probably trying to figure out an answer, but I don’t think I’m ever going to. I don’t think we can pinpoint to one thing as to why it happened when it did, anything like that. I try to focus on the things that I can control. For me that was rehabbing to the best of my ability, and now it’s trying to prepare for a season.”