NEW YORK — Cory Kluber kept hitters mostly to humdrum contact off the bat — fitting for the monotone man they call Klubot.
Restricted by injuries to one inning in the previous two seasons, the two-time Cy Young Award winner induced six ground-ball outs and five strikeouts in his New York Yankees' debut.
Kluber allowed one earned run over four innings, and Gary Sánchez joined Elston Howard in 1963 as the only Yankees catchers to homer in each of the first two games. Jay Bruce highlighted his 34th birthday by blooping a two-run single in the seventh for his first hit with his new team and made a diving backhand stop at first to rob Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of a double in a 5-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday.
“The most fun part of it for me today was going out there with my teammates and competing and trying to win," Kluber said.
Pitching in long sleeves on a 44-degree afternoon, Kluber threw 37 pitches in the first two innings, more than double his 18 last season. His 2019 season ended May 1 when he was hit on the forearm by a comebacker, and his debut for Texas in 2020 lasted just one inning before he tore a muscle in his right shoulder on July 26.
Winner of two Cy Young Award with Cleveland, the 35-year-old right-hander allowed three walks, five hits, a hit batter and a wild pitch in four-plus innings. He faced 19 batters and just two hits were hard: Guerrero's leadoff single in the fourth and Marcus Semien's homer that ended Kluber's afternoon in the fifth.
His 11 fastballs topped at 90.7 mph, and he mixed in 22 in curveballs, 20 sinkers, 15 cutters and six changeups. Toronto tied it in the third with two walks and a wild pitch followed by Sánchez's run-scoring throwing error into
Given his nickname for his reserved, robot-like manner, Kluber is among three Yankees starters coming off long layoffs.
Domingo Germán starts Sunday in his first appearance since Sept. 18, 2019, after completing a suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy. Jameson Taillon make his Yankees debut Wednesday against Baltimore after recovering from an elbow injury that had sidelined him since May 1, 2019, and required his second Tommy John surgery.
“Probably still going a little shorter with them in these first couple of starts as they continue to build up that bandwidth and that pitch count," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "And really just seeing how they're able to hold their stuff.”
Left-hander Lucas Luetge also debuted for the Yankees in his first major league appearance since April 25, 2015, with Seattle. The 34-year-old allowed a leadoff single in the seventh to Randal Grichuk, who scored on two wild pitches and Semien’s RBI groundout.
Chad Green got Rowdy Tellez to swing under a 96 mph pitch to strand two in the eighth and got a four-out save in the absence of Aroldis Chapman, who completed a two-game suspension for throwing near the head of Tampa Bay’s Mike Brousseau last Sept. 1.
“Adrenaline is definitely starting to come back. Obviously different than it was last year having to kind of create your own adrenaline," Green said. “Last year, you kind of had to realize the big situations, and now the fans will kind of tell you the big situations.”
A sellout crowd of 10,107 — capacity was limited to 20% under New York State novel coronavirus restrictions — was noticeably louder than during Thursday’s 3-2, 10-inning loss.
Toronto’s Ross Stripling, starting because of injuries to Robbie Ray, Nate Pearson and Thomas Hatch, allowed three runs, seven hits and two walks in 3 1/3 innings with five strikeouts.
AL batting champion DJ LeMahieu legged out a run-scoring, two-out infield hit in the second. Sánchez homered for a 2-1 lead in the fourth, and Aaron Hicks added a run-scoring hit off the glove of an overshifted Semien diving behind at second.
Bruce, New York’s first baseman while Luke Voit recovers from knee surgery, blooped a sinker from left-hander Tim Wayza, who made his first appearance since Sept. 13, 2019, with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh.
“He made the pitch," Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said.
"It wasn't the prettiest or hardest hit of all time," Bruce said. “It was timely, and that's even more important.”
Hicks also has struck out three times each in consecutive games for the first time in his nine-season career.
Blue Jays: OF George Springer (strained left oblique) could be activated for Thursday’s home opener against the Los Angeles Angels in Dunedin, Florida.
Yankees: LHP Justin Wilson (shoulder tightness) threw batting practice and could be activated from the IL when the Yankees start a trip at Tampa Bay on Friday.
Germán pitched nine scoreless innings over five appearances during spring training, allowing five hits, striking out 13 and walking one. RHP T.J. Zeuch starts for the Blue Jays.
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Ronald Blum, The Associated Press