IAN HARRISON, Associated Press
TORONTO (AP) — Corey Kluber’s first career start on short rest hardly went the way he wanted.
Looking to finish off a Cleveland sweep in the AL Championship Series, the ace right-hander got touched up by the Toronto Blue Jays during a 5-1 defeat Tuesday in Game 4.
Kluber was pushed up to pitch on three days’ rest because of several injuries to Cleveland’s rotation. He took the loss after allowing two runs and four hits while throwing 89 pitches in five innings.
“I felt fine,” Kluber said. “I don’t think (the short rest) physically affected me.”
It was the first time the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner permitted a playoff opponent to score. He had thrown 13 1/3 scoreless innings against the Red Sox and Blue Jays this October, his first postseason.
“We talked to Kluber after every inning and I thought he held his stuff really good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I thought his legs started to get a little tired.”
Following their first loss in seven playoff games this year, the Indians remain one win from their first trip to the World Series since 1997. They’ll take a 3-1 ALCS lead into Game 5 on Wednesday, when rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt starts against Blue Jays righty Marco Estrada.
Merritt’s major league resume consists of 11 regular-season innings this year. He made one start, holding Kansas City to a run and three hits in five innings on Sept. 30.
“If you told me on the first day of the season I would be pitching in the ALCS, I might have thought you were crazy,” Merritt said. “Clinching this win would be awesome. To get this opportunity is awesome. It feels good that the team trusts me.”
Francona is optimistic Merritt will be up to the task.
“I think he’s OK,” the manager said. “He talked to (pitching coach Mickey Callaway) a little bit about the scouting report this morning.”
Cleveland has been without starters Carlos Carrasco (broken hand) and Danny Salazar (forearm) this entire postseason. Right-hander Trevor Bauer left Game 3 after four batters when blood began dripping from his right pinkie, sliced open last week as the pitcher was repairing one of the drones he enjoys flying as a hobby.
The early exit by Bauer forced the Indians to get 25 outs from their stellar bullpen Monday night and prompted Francona to turn to Kluber on short rest in Game 4.
If the ALCS goes the distance, Kluber could wind up starting on three days’ rest again. Game 7 would be Saturday in Cleveland.
“We’re one win away from the World Series and that’s what we’re focused on,” Kluber said.
Kluber, who went 6 1/3 innings to win Game 1, pitched around singles in the first two innings Tuesday before giving up a two-out solo homer to reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson in the third.
It marked the first time Cleveland trailed in the series.
“I made a mistake to Donaldson,” Kluber said.
There was more trouble for Kluber in the fourth, which began with back-to-back walks to Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin. It was the third time this season Kluber issued consecutive walks, and the first time he’d done so against the first two batters in an inning.
After Michael Saunders struck out swinging, Ezequiel Carrera made it 2-0 with a bloop single that dropped in front of center fielder Tyler Naquin. Kluber responded by striking out Kevin Pillar and Ryan Goins.
Kluber retired his final five batters, striking out three. He walked two and fanned seven, matching his strikeout total from Game 2 of the Division Series against Boston.
“I thought we did a good job of battling,” Martin said. “He’s definitely a tough guy to score runs against, but we found a way to get a couple today.”
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