Tampa Bay pitcher Corey Kluber found himself in an awkward position as the media surrounded him on Friday before the Rays’ 4-1 loss to the Cleveland Guardians in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The right-hander is hoping to let his pitching arm — not his mouth — do the talking. If he does, it will take the attention away from Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash and his former employer, Cleveland skipper Terry Francona.
Before Cash was hired by the Rays, he was Francona’s top assistant. They are good friends, share similar managerial styles and are the two longest-tenured managers in the American League.
The question, then: Who’s the better manager?
“They’re both great,” Kluber said with a laugh.
That provided a bit of comic relief as the friendship between Cash and Francona was a hot topic for the media.
“Everybody who knows us knows how much I think of (Cash),” Francona said. “I know I’m biased — and I don’t apologize for it — but I think he’s really good and he has proven that out.”
Kluber, 36, has a rare perspective because he’s very familiar with Francona and Cash. Kluber arrived in Cleveland in 2011, two years before Francona. Cash spent two years with them before leaving for the Rays in 2015.
Kluber spent the first nine seasons of his career in Cleveland. He won the American League Cy Young Award in 2014 and ’17 and finished third two other times. Before joining the Rays this year, Kluber spent one year with the Texas Rangers and another with the New York Yankees.
Kluber’s numbers (6-6, 3.91 ERA) haven’t matched up with his past. But that isn’t necessarily his fault. Kluber is one of only three Tampa Bay pitchers who has been healthy all season. He’s given the Rays a lot of innings, but he has also been the victim of some tough luck.
That’s mostly because the Rays haven’t given Kluber much support. In five of his losses, Tampa Bay scored two or fewer runs.
Don’t count on that changing overnight. The Rays had just six hits and left six runners on base in the series opener, a 4-1 loss to the Guardians. The Rays have scored one run in their past 18 innings and have scored three or fewer runs in six of their last seven games.
It’s easy to blame Tampa Bay’s offensive woes on injuries. The Rays have a franchise-record 17 players on the injury list, including offensive leaders Wander Franco, Mike Zunino, Harold Ramirez and Manuel Margot.
After the game, Cash was asked why his hitters have struggled.
“I don’t know,” Cash said. “If I had the answer, I would have provided it already. We’ve got to get out of it, and we’ve got to get out of it collectively.”
The Rays could catch a break on Saturday because Cleveland will start Zach Plesac (2-8, 4.09 ERA). In a small sample size of two games, Plesac hasn’t pitched well against the Rays, going 0-1 with a 6.17 ERA.
Plesac is also riding an eight-start winless streak in which he has gone 0-4 despite posting a 3.30 ERA. His last victory came on June 5 against the Baltimore Orioles.
Cleveland starter Shane Bieber gave up a run in the first inning Friday night but held the Rays scoreless the rest of way.
No matter how well Kluber and Plesac pitch, the Guardians often rely on a great equalizer to make a difference. That’s Jose Ramirez.
He homered and drove in three runs Friday, giving him 21 and 83, respectively, for the season. He also has had some success against the Rays, with five home runs and 17 RBIs in 115 plate appearances.
–Field Level Media