FORT MYERS, Fla. — Corey Kluber ran sprints on a grass field at Fenway South early Friday afternoon. His son, Camden, trailed behind, trying his best to keep up with the 36-year-old pitcher, who is entering his 13th year in the big leagues.
Just minutes earlier, Kluber completed the second live batting practice of his first spring trainingwith the Red Sox.
After countless sprints, Camden finally conceded and plopped down on the grass. His father couldn’t stop running, though. Rest and recovery are important. In the latter years of his career, Kluber has acknowledged that.
But a big leaguer should never lose sight of his routine. Even if that routine includes something as common as sprints following a throwing program.
“It’s about preparation with him,” manager Alex Cora said. “What you see on TV is what you get, too. He’s very structured in his work. He’s very quiet. But when he talks, you listen.
“It’s similar to [former Sox reliever] Adam Ottavino a couple of years ago, getting used to the environment, getting used to the guys. There’s a lot of knowledge. He pitched well last year for the Rays and we expect him to do the same thing. I know he’s excited for the opportunity.”
Kluber made 31 starts last season for Tampa Bay, his most since 2018, when he took the hill for Cleveland 33 times the year after he had won his second Cy Young Award.
The righthander is beyond that stage of his career, however. Adaptability and acceptance of his new — and older — self on the mound isn’t an issue because Kluber has been adapting throughout his big league tenure.
“I like to think that I was adaptable in different ways throughout my career,” Kluber said. “Whether it be switching from the four-seam [fastball] to the two-seam, adapting that way. Or adding a cutter, maybe changing pitch mixes over time because stuff is less than it once was.
“I view it as I kind of have the experience doing it before. You’ve got to find the best way for you to get outs and keep runs off the board that year.”
Kluber’s pitch percentage is all over the map. In 2011, when he first broke into the majors, he relied mainly on his four-seam fastball. The following year, he practically ditched the four-seamer and relied on his sinker the most, a pitch he threw 32.3 percent of the time. He introduced a cutter to his arsenal in 2017 and that became the pitch he depended on the most in 2019 and 2022.
“I think even when guys’ stuff is still as dominant as it was the year prior, you’re going to end up going through things a little bit differently the following year because hitters have had that long to study you,” Kluber said.
The willingness to change throughout his career has allowed Kluber to pitch into his mid 30s despite injuries limiting him to a total of 24 starts from 2019-21 with Cleveland, Texas, and the Yankees. Sixteen of those starts were for New York in 2021, one of which was a no-hitter against the Rangers.
As he has aged, Kluber has become better at reading swings, understanding what a hitter wants to do.
“[The transition] now involves sequencing better, reading guys’ swing throughout an at-bat,” Kluber said. “Getting better at playing that little pitcher-hitter cat-and-mouse game.”
While structure is important in his routine, on the mound, Kluber’s ability to thrive is built on change.