CLEVELAND — Corey Kluber’s stiff neck cleared up a day too soon for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Cleveland’s ace struck out a season-high 14 in 7 2/3 innings and showed no signs of the neck problem that pushed back him back in the rotation with another dominating performance in the Indians’ 8-1 victory Sunday.
“It wasn’t anything that was really concerning,” said Kluber, whose regular turn in the rotation was scheduled for Friday. “Just needed a couple of extra days to get to the spot I wanted to be. I didn’t think about it at all.”
Kluber (8-3) allowed five hits, including Kevin Pillar’s leadoff homer in the third, and reached double figures in strikeouts for the ninth time in 16 starts. He fell four strikeouts short of matching his career-high 18 against St. Louis in 2015.
The 2014 AL Cy Young winner fanned the first two hitters in the eighth before walking Josh Donaldson, ending a nine-pitch at-bat. The right-hander, who threw 120 pitches, received a standing ovation from the crowd of 30,701 after being removed by manager Terry Francona.
“I knew it was my last hitter,” Kluber said. “I guess when you get in that spot you empty the tank and leave everything out there because there’s no more after that point.”
Kluber missed a month earlier this season with a strained back. He’s 5-1 with a 1.52 ERA in 10 starts since coming off the disabled list.
“He’s kind of set the bar pretty high,” Francona said. “We rely on him so much and he knows that. It’s nice to put his name in there every five days.”
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, whose team finished 3-7 on its longest road trip of the season, expressed a similar opinion.
“He’s one of the best in baseball, but he was as good today as we’ve ever seen him,” Gibbons said.
Michael Brantley hit a two-run homer in the sixth and had three RBIs. Brandon Guyer’s three-run double was the key hit in the first, when Cleveland took a 4-0 lead against J.A. Happ (3-7).
Kluber allowed three runs in 7 1/3 innings against Oakland on July 15. Francona decided earlier in the week to push his next start back a couple of days.
Happ was behind after throwing four pitches. Carlos Santana led off with a single, took second on Francisco Lindor’s bunt hit and scored on Brantley’s single.
Edwin Encarnacion flied out but Jose Ramirez walked on four pitches and Guyer lined a 2-2 pitch to the gap in left-centre.
Lindor, whose 10th-inning home run Saturday gave the Indians a 2-1 win, had an RBI single in the fourth. Brantley’s home run was his first since April 30, a span of 54 games.
Happ allowed a season-high seven runs in six innings. The Blue Jays were outscored 23-5 in the series.
“We need to get home,” Gibbons said. “It was a lousy day.”
The win moved the Indians to 24-24 at Progressive Field after going 53-28 at home last season.
The Blue Jays are 44-54 and firmly in last place in the AL East.
“We have come back from similar situations and made it to the playoffs,” said Jose Bautista, who struck out three times against Kluber. “All we can control is the games we have left.”
Bautista had little to say on whether he’d waive his no-trade clause with the July 31 deadline approaching.
“I’m not willing to entertain that type of question right now,” he said.
Blue Jays: SS Troy Tulowitzki (groin) was not in the lineup for the second day in a row. He was injured while running to first base in his final at-bat Friday.
Blue Jays: LHP Francisco Liriano opens a four-game home series against Oakland. He moved up one day in the rotation when Aaron Sanchez was placed on the disabled list.
Indians: RHP Josh Tomlin faces Cincinnati in a rescheduled home game from May 25. He allowed five runs in 6 1/3 innings during a 5-1 loss to the Reds on May 22 in Cincinnati.