Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 52
Bob Toth | On 05, Feb 2018
While the offseason has been historically slow and the winter has crawled along at an even slower pace, we at Did The Tribe Win Last Night look ahead to the warmer days of the 2018 season by remembering Tribe players past and present.
Countdown to Opening Day – 52 days
The number 52 has had a good run in Indians history, despite its late start appearing on the field.
The number debuted for the first time in Cleveland in 1953, when Dave Hoskins wore it during the 1953 season (he also wore 51 that season). He went 9-3, primarily out of the bullpen, and made 14 more appearances the next season in what would be the only action of his Major League career. It did not return for nearly 20 years, when Cleveland native Larry Johnson made his big league debut in 1972. The East Tech High School product, whose full name was Larry Doby Johnson, singled in two plate appearances in his only game of that season, and he would return in one more game for the club in 1974 (in a new number) before he was traded to the Montreal Expos. He would appear in just ten more games over three years, giving him a total of a dozen games of action during his brief MLB career.
Ten years after Johnson wore it in his debut, Carmelo Castillo did the same. The outfielder appeared in 47 games for the Indians in 1982, playing all three outfield spots, and he would be a bench bat for the club for parts of seven years before he was traded to the Minnesota Twins in 1989.Castillo’s teammate, John Farrell, would spend parts of five seasons in the number for the Indians. A second round pick by the club out of Oklahoma State University in 1984, he debuted in August of 1987 in the number, working in relief. His other nine appearances that season would come in a starting role, something he would do for the bulk of his Indians career. He went 14-10 with a 4.24 ERA in 31 games in 1988 and dropped his ERA to 3.63 the following season, despite a 9-14 showing on the mound. Injuries would cost him a chunk of 1990 and all of the 1991 and 1992 seasons before he was on the move to California to play for the Angels. He returned to Cleveland for one game of work in 1995 and finished his big league career with Detroit in 1996 before beginning a successful run as a Major League manager.
The number logged a few innings out of the bullpen (Brian Barnes in six games in 1994; Steve Kline in 20 games in 1997) before rookie first baseman Sean Casey made his debut wearing 52. He got the call in September of 1997 and played in just six games for the club, then was traded in the offseason to Cincinnati for Dave Burba. He went on to a productive Major League career, primarily in the Queen City, where he was a three-time All-Star before suiting up for Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Boston.
CC Sabathia has been the most accomplished 52 in club history, wearing the number after Dave Roberts claimed it briefly in 1999. Sabathia spent eight seasons in Cleveland, helping lead the Tribe to the playoffs in 2001 and 2007. He finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting in his first season, a 17-5 campaign in 2001, and was a three-time All-Star while in town. His best season was his last full one with Cleveland, when he went 19-7 with a 3.24 ERA in 34 starts with an MLB-leading 5.65 strikeouts per walk.The number went unused for a few years, with some big shoes to fill in Sabathia’s departure. Vinnie Pestano was the man to do so, working for five years on the Indians’ relief staff as a late inning specialist and a known sprinter from the team’s bullpen. Pestano spent 2011 and 2012 as a workhorse, appearing in 67 and 70 games respectively. He earned a career-high six saves during the 2013 season, but he could not find his old form in 2014 and was traded to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. “VFP” made 12 solid appearances for the Angels that season and worked in 19 games the following year for the club (with 35 more trips to the mound for their Triple-A Salt Lake club). He last pitched in 2016, working in eight games at Triple-A for the New York Yankees.
Clevinger was already linked to the number 52, having been acquired in the trade with the Angels that sent Pestano west. Clevinger’s magical 2016 season included the birth of his daughter and a trip to the Cleveland Indians’ Major League roster for the first time in his career. He got an extensive amount of work with the Indians again in 2017, with injuries subtracting starting pitchers Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar from the rotation for stretches of the season. While he would not be in the rotation come time for the playoffs, he was a part of the team’s postseason pitching staff, making the roster instead as a reliever to give the bullpen depth and length.
In 27 games (21 starts) for the Indians in 2017, Clevinger went 12-6 with a 3.11 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP, seemingly cementing a future in the Majors for Cleveland, in a capacity yet unknown on a crowded pitching staff.
Clevinger was a fourth round pick by the Angels in 2011 out of Seminole Community College in Sanford, Florida. The Jacksonville, Florida, native pitched sparingly in their farm system due to injuries and was shaky in his heaviest workload of his young pro career in 2014 when the Indians acquired him. He went 9-8 with a 2.73 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP at Double-A Akron in 2015 and posted an 11-1 record with a 3.00 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP for Triple-A Columbus in 2016, around his call-ups to the Majors.
Photo: Bob Levey/Getty Images