CLEVELAND — Corey Kluber proved a point Sunday.
The Indians right-hander was the best pitcher at Progressive Field, outdueling Stephen Strasburg in Cleveland’s 2-0 win over the Washington Nationals.
Kluber scattered seven hits over eight innings and struck out eight — spoiling Strasburg’s return from the disabled list in the process. Kluber matched his longest outing in the big leagues and did not walk a batter as the Indians won the rubber match of the three-game interleague series.
“Wow, that was really fun to watch,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “He was so good all day. He completely kept his composure and executed his pitches. That was very impressive.”
Kluber (5-4) worked his way out of three major jams in winning for the first time in 11 career starts at home. He exited after throwing a career-high 114 pitches, allowing Vinnie Pestano to earn his first save with a scoreless ninth inning.
“You just have to stay in the moment, so I take it pitch by pitch,” said Kluber, who came in 0-6 with a 4.80 ERA at Progressive Field. “I’m not thinking too far ahead. I’m not thinking if I can get a double play here or a strikeout there. Those things happen as a result of making good pitches.”
Washington twice put runners at first and third with no outs against Kluber but failed to score either time. Three straight Nationals struck out to end the fourth, while Ryan Zimmerman struck out and Adam LaRoche hit into a double play in the sixth.
Kluber also escaped a bases-loaded situation with no outs in the seventh, inducing a groundout from Roger Bernadina and a lineout double play from Jhonatan Solano.
“In a couple of those innings we would have gladly gotten off with one, just limit damage,” Francona said.
Strasburg (3-6) also pitched well in his first start since May 31, when he strained his lower back against the Braves and was placed on the 15-day disabled list. Washington’s prized right-hander went five innings, allowing one run on one hit with four walks and four strikeouts.
Carlos Santana had an RBI single in the fourth off Strasburg, who was lifted after exceeding his 80-pitch limit by two. The Indians added an insurance run in the eighth against Nationals reliever Craig Stammen, who surrendered a leadoff double to Michael Bourn, a sacrifice bunt by Aviles, and a sacrifice fly to Jason Kipnis.
“I felt really good and definitely could have gone for a few more innings, but they didn’t want me to,” said Strasburg. “It was good to be out there after two weeks. I tried to pound the strike zone as much as I could, but it was a little bit hit or miss, which is to be expected.”
Strasburg held Cleveland without a hit for the first 3 1-3 innings before Santana singled up the middle to score Kipnis. Kipnis reached on a walk, then advanced to third when catcher Solano attempted to stop him from stealing second, but threw the ball into center field.
“It was just a frustrating day all around,” Washington manager Davey Johnson said.
Indians first baseman Nick Swisher was held out of the lineup with a sore left shoulder that bothered him earlier in the season. He signed a four-year, $56 million contract in January, but is in a 6-for-55 slump that has dropped his average to .237.
Francona said Swisher is being evaluated by the team’s medical staff and is unlikely to play Monday in Cleveland’s series opener against Kansas City. It’s unclear if he will require a trip to the disabled list.
“You could tell (Saturday) he was feeling it,” Francona said. “I don’t know how far back he’s been feeling it. It’s something that may be there, at least partially, all year. You just don’t know. That’s why we’re getting him looked at again, and trying to get more knowledge about it and see the best way to attack it.”
The Indians have won four of six since losing eight in a row.
NOTES: Indians RHP Chris Perez (right shoulder strain) made his first rehab appearance for Single-A Lake County, tossing one scoreless inning against Great Lakes. The closer started the game, allowing two hits and striking out one, and could be activated from the 15-day DL Monday. ... Pestano recorded Cleveland’s first save since May 23, ending a 21-game drought. ... 3B John McDonald made his first start since being re-acquired from Pittsburgh for future considerations on June 10. ... Nationals 2B Anthony Rendon went 3 for 4 and is batting .462 (18 for 39) during his 10-game hitting streak. The rookie gave Washington a 7-6 win Saturday with a two-out solo homer off Pestano in the ninth. ... The Nationals optioned LHP Xavier Cedeno to Triple-A Syracuse to make room for Strasburg on the 25-man roster. ... The Indians continue their nine-game homestand Monday against the Royals. Cleveland right-hander Carlos Carrasco (0-2) takes on Kansas City right-hander James Shields (2-6).