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Clevinger Getting New Opportunity to Impress Indians

Clevinger Getting New Opportunity to Impress Indians

| On 07, May 2017

When Mike Clevinger made his debut last May against the Cincinnati Reds, it was unknown what kind of chance he would get to stick around the Majors with the Indians. As it turns out, the 2016 rookie was in the big leagues for much more than just a cup of coffee.

As injuries persisted in the starting rotation and ineffectiveness plagued more-established relievers, Clevinger had ample opportunity to show the Tribe what he could do. He became a valuable pitching commodity in his ability and willingness to work back and forth between the starting rotation and bullpen. He started ten games and relieved seven for the Tribe. In the ten starts, Clevinger was up and down in going 1-3 with a 5.93 ERA in 41 innings pitched. In a more-controlled relief pitching climate, he was 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in 12 frames.

Clevinger’s starting numbers may have been hurt by having to make four late-season starts when his arm was not stretched out to do so. The Tribe had made him a full-time reliever mid-season. Then disaster struck the rotation in September as Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar both got hurt. Cleveland needed somebody to try and eat up starters innings as best they could at that point.

More-importantly for Clevinger, who is now 26, he got a taste of the postseason life. The Indians kept him on the postseason roster all they way through the World Series. With Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, and Bryan Shaw leading the way out of the bullpen, Clevinger really only saw mop-up work in the postseason. However, being there is a good experience for any young pitcher.

Coming into this season, Tribe management said the goal was for Clevinger to continue to develop as a starter. That said, the only place for him was back at Triple-A Columbus. The Indians’ regular starting five of Corey Kluber, Carrasco, Salazar, Josh Tomlin, and Trevor Bauer were all healthy and ready to go at the outset of this 2017 campaign. It was back to the Clippers for Clevinger to continue to work on his craft and be ready in case of emergency.

That emergency struck on Tuesday and Wednesday. Tribe ace and former Cy Young winner Kluber left his start Tuesday in Detroit with a balky back. On Wednesday, he was placed on the 10-day disabled list. He may or may not need more time than that. At any rate, the Indians will need a fill-in and opted to go to Clevinger, who will pitch on Sunday afternoon on regular rest while the club bumps Bauer back to a start in Toronto on Monday. Clevinger is, in essence, the team’s No. 6 pitcher.

The best-case scenario for the Tribe will be for Clevinger to make just one start, as that would mean that Kluber’s stay on the disabled list was short. Of course, with the nature of back pains, it could be two or three starts needed to cover for Cleveland’s No. 1 starter and 2016 American League All-Star. If Kluber is healthy and ready to go when eligible to be activated on Saturday, he would miss just one start, thanks to Thursday’s rain out in Detroit and an off day on Thursday at the end of the lengthy road trip.

Whether it is just one outing or two or three, Clevinger is being granted a fresh opportunity to show the Indians what he can do in a starting role. Unlike his last few MLB starts, his arm is now stretched out. Unlike his debut in May, Clevinger has MLB experience and a grasp of what to expect from and how to pitch to the game’s top hitters. He should also have momentum on his side.

Clevinger has been lights out for Columbus so far this season. In his second year at the Triple-A level, Clevinger is 3-1 with a 1.50 ERA in six starts. He has allowed only three earned runs in 30 innings. The flame thrower is striking out 9.6 batters per nine innings, a strong clip. His biggest downfall, however, is his wildness. He is walking three batters per nine frames. The free pass was his number one undoing with Cleveland last year. He is down from the 4.9 walks per nine stanzas that he was at while with the Indians in 2016. It is still something that he needs to work on before being a truly polished pitcher.

Of course, he was at 3.4 walks per nine in Columbus last season, so the jump of 1.5 more with the Tribe could very well have been a case of a rookie being a little over amped up for his outings. That is where having pitched in the Majors and in World Series games could be a help to Clevinger this time around. He should be better able to settle in and pitch his game.

Still, if Clevinger can keep the opposition’s runs low and work a good five or six innings, that would be all the Indians could really ask of their second-year hurler. He is still green, but has certainly climbed the ranks of Cleveland’s pitching ladder since an early August 2014 trade that saw him arrive to the Tribe from the Angels in exchange for reliever Vinnie Pestano. Injuries destroyed a once-promising future for Pestano, who has not played in the Majors since 2015 and made just eight Triple-A appearances last season. Clevinger could never pitch another game and the Indians would have won that trade.

Clevinger is, however, pitching at least one more game. He will pitch more. Whether more is on this call up or later remains to be seen. Like last season, it is unknown if Clevinger is going to be in the Majors for a short stretch or an extended time. Unlike last year, he is entrenched in the Tribe’s plans going forward. It is clear the Indians will need him to be a quality Major League starter in the future. That future could come quickly. Cleveland’s starters are showing that they are not impervious to the injury bug. Tomlin and Bauer entered this weekend’s series in Kansas City still searching for the stuff that made them among the game’s best No. 4 and 5 starters a season ago.

Clevinger is likely going to be needed by the Indians, whether due to injury or ineffectiveness, to help in the team’s journey to what it hopes will be a return trip to the World Series. Clevinger can take this coming opportunity, as bad as it is for the team to be without its ace, and turn it into a positive for all involved if he can show that he is ready to take that next step toward being an effective and quality MLB starter.

Photo: Elsa/Getty Images

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