Kluber told manager Aaron Boone that he felt like he normally does the day after a start. Other folks close to the situation, listening to Kluber, proceeded with a similar lack of dread.
And then the results came. Despite an absence of pain in the shoulder, Kluber learned that he had a sub-scapular strain, will need a more invasive second MRI in search of clearer answers, and would miss a minimum of two months.
This came on a day when the Yankees also lost first baseman Luke Voit to a Grade 2 oblique strain. Beyond the unpleasant surprise on Kluber are darker implications for both the pitcher and his Yankees.
Kluber’s comeback was proceeding nicely, and came to include an historic peak. He did not look sharp in spring training or early April, with a fastball that sat in the high 80s and a lack of consistent command of his breaking ball, an elite slider/curveball hybrid.
Opposing scouts were unimpressed, and fans questioned the Yankees’ decision to invest $11 million in Kluber in the offseason.
Then Kluber proceeded as he predicted while insisting that he felt good and was simply a slow starter. His velocity went up a tick, his breaking ball became sharp again. He commanded it to both sides of the plate.
Even before his no-hitter in Texas last week, Kluber had made a steady ascent, becoming a reliable number two behind Gerrit Cole. He didn’t have enough of a fastball to be Cy Young Corey Kluber, but it was good enough to supplement the breaking ball and allow him to function on a high level.
One assumes that two months away from the game — if that’s all it is — will result in a need to not only build up strength again, but regain the sharpness that he found after that slow start. Perhaps Kluber can help the Yankees in the stretch run and postseason, but it’s suddenly hard to imagine being able to be part of what gets them there.
For Brian Cashman and the front office, the Kluber signing was always a calculated risk, and did not occur in a vacuum. The team got a positive recommendation from its strength and conditioning guru Eric Cressey, with whom Kluber trains privately. Their scouts watched him throw, and noted solid mechanics and arm action.
The team was also considering reunions with Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton to fill that rotation spot, but were concerned about a decline in stuff for Tanaka and health for Paxton. Neither is pitching in the big leagues this year.
Other teams, most notably the savvy Rays and Red Sox, were after Kluber, too. A week ago, the signing looked like a brilliant coup for Cashman and Co. Now, the story of Kluber’s comeback has taken a sudden, dark turn. And one that no one was expecting mere hours ago.