CLEVELAND — Corey Kluber made the ceremonial return to Cleveland last year, getting the hugs, handshakes and scoreboard video tribute when he visited with his then-Yankees teammates for a four-game April series; but he didn’t pitch.
This will be more of a business trip.
Kluber is slated to pitch, for the first time as a visitor on the Progressive Field mound where he starred for years. The Rays open a key series as they seek to secure an American League wild-card playoff spot.
“I think it’ll be fun,” Kluber said.
He had plenty of fun pitching parts of nine seasons for Cleveland, winning two Cy Young awards and finishing third two other times, and starting and winning Game 1 of the 2016 World Series there.
Kluber said he will always think highly of the executives in the Cleveland organization, as they saw something to acquire him from San Diego at the 2010 deadline; he was still in the minors after being a 2007 fourth-round pick from Stetson.
“I think they’re really important,” he said. “Obviously they believed in me enough to trade for me and helped develop me and turn me from a not very good minor-league pitcher into a guy that has survived (in the majors) for over 10 years now. So I think that they were obviously a big part of that.”
He said he also had a special bond with the Cleveland fans.
“Their fan base has always been great to me and to my family,” he said. “There was a stretch there where we had a lot of really good teams. And I think they were a big part of that and they enjoyed that environment.”
Making a return last year may make it easier this time, he said. Or not.
“I think I’ll still probably have memories come back, whether it be walking to the bullpen or warming up in the bullpen — it’s different ones but they’re right next to each other,” he said.
“But I think once the game starts you step on the mound and you’re facing a hitter. Not sure if it’s just me, but I think that stuff kind of gets put aside and you focus on what your task is.”
He also has the experience of pitching against them earlier this year, working six innings for the Rays on July 30, allowing four runs (including an Andres Gimenez homer) in a 6-4 win.
The Rays headed out to Cleveland as scheduled late Monday afternoon to start a nine-game road trip that also includes visits to Houston and Boston to finish the regular season.
Baseball operations president Erik Neander said they will be talking with players and staff to get a sense of the situations their families are in related to preparations and safety regarding Hurricane Ian, and if there are issues they can address or help with.
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The team closed its offices at Tropicana Field at least through Wednesday and the team store at least through Thursday. Feeding Tampa Bay was planning to host an event at the Trop from 9:30 a.m.-noon Tuesday.
The instructional league camp in Port Charlotte was cut short due to the storm with the players and staff sent home over the weekend. With about another 1 ½ weeks left, some players may be invited back next week.
The Rays could become the fourth team in major-league history to end the season with a road trip of nine or more games and clinch a postseason berth along the way. The 1966 Dodgers, 1971 Giants and 1995 Reds did so. The Phillies, who Monday started a 10-game trip, could also do so this year. ... Tuesday’s lineup should be telling as infielders Yandy Diaz, out a week with a sore left shoulder, and Wander Franco, who left Sunday’s game with a jammed left hand, are expected back. ... Rain is forecast for much of Tuesday afternoon and night.
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