The Indians are well known for making some outstanding trades in the past. One of the more recent trades was when the Indians acquired Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles for reliever Esmil Rogers from the Toronto Blue Jays. Back in 2014, the Indians trading a struggling Vinnie Pestano for an also struggling Michael Clevinger from the Las Angeles Angels, and it looks like they may have from a diamond in the rough.
Clevinger, 24, was initially drafted by the Angels in fourth round of the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft. He spent parts of 4 seasons in the Angels minor league system, and dominated at almost every level. He averaged a K/9 ratio of 9.18 while with the Angels. In 2014, prior to getting traded, he was posting an ERA of 5.37 with a record of 1-3 in 13 games with High-A Inland Empire.
The Indians found interest in Clevinger, when the Angels were seemingly giving up on him as he seemed to be lost on the mound. While Pestano had lost his job in Cleveland, the Angels wanted to give him a shot in their bullpen. Thus the Indians moved Pestano to acquire Clevinger, who was immediately sent to High-A Carolina for the remainder of the 2014 season.
During his time in Carolina, Clevinger posted an ERA of 4.79, with a BB/9 of 4.95 and a K/9 of 6.75 in 5 games. 2014 just seemed like an off year for Clevinger, as in his prior seasons he never posted an ERA higher than 3.75, aside from his one start with the Orem Owlz in 2013. When he arrived in Double-A Akron in 2015, Clevinger was essentially a new pitcher at the start of the season. All thanks to the coaching staff of the Indians minor league system, according to Cleviner.
“Once I came over here, these guys sat me down and kind of broke down my mechanics and showed me why it wasn’t working, how it wasn’t working. They completely changed everything from night to day,” Clevinger said.
His mechanics seemed to be off when he was with the Angels, but it must not have been apparent enough for the pitching staff over in LA to notice. The Cleveland pitching coach staff has been in the spotlight the last few years after the arrivals of some talented pitchers from the system. Pitchers including Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, and Cody Anderson to name a few. It seems as though they’ve been able to fix Clevingers mechanical issues, as they did last year when Anderson was struggling mightily.
So far this season, Clevinger is posting an ERA of 2.65, a K/9 of 8.3, BB/9 of 2.5. He’s pitched in 91.2 innings over 16 games and has a record of 5-4. In his last four starts, he’s been testing out a new wind up off the mound. When he goes into his delivery, he has a blatant hitch where he holds the ball for a second before he comes to the plate. This allows Clevinger to build off of his back leg to power his pitches to the plate with authority. This hitch was developed by Clevinger and pitching coach Jeff Harris.
“It started out as a drill,” Clevinger said. “I always did this drill every time before I went out to start and before I really started to get into my bullpens. I realized it was letting me get on top of the ball and get out front so then it became part of the game mode.”
It’s obviously been working for Clevinger as he’s had an ERA of 1.94 over 23.2 innings since the change. What’s even more impressive is that he’s struck out 24 batters, while only walking 3 in that span. Manager David Wallace is a fan of this new hesitation, and has been impressed with Clevingers progress thus far in the season.
“They were really trying to get him to really ride out that backside a little bit more, and not jump out so early. That little bit of hesitation will help him stay on that back leg and generate some more power. I know the plan is to smooth it out, and the plan isn’t to go with that pause as a everyday thing. Right now, it’s good,” Wallace said.
This new delivery also helps Clevinger with his deception at the plate, as the hesitation throws off the timing of the batters.
“Sometimes I’ll hold it a little bit longer, and sometimes I’ll go right through it. Ya definitely think it throws them off,” Clevinger said.
When Clevinger does put a runner on base though, he will stop doing this hesitation with his windup. If he continued to hesitate, the runner could take advantage of the time slip and steal a base behind him. There was concern that this could throw off Clevinger on the mound, which would then allow him give up more hits or runs and drive him out of the game. Wallace and Clevinger are firm in believing that this is not an issue, nor do they think that this hesitation will stay as part of his delivery forever.
“He can’t do it [with a runner on base] because it would take too long, and he’d be too slow to the plate. They want those to be as similar as possible. It’s going to be a progress, and you might see it slowly phase out. We feel like right now, it’s the best thing for Mike, and I know he likes it. For the near future, we’re going to roll with it and let him continue to feel that. Then it’ll evolve into a more smooth delivery,” Wallace said.
The hitch is certainly working now, and as long as Clevinger is successful with it, there’s no reason for him to discontinue it for the time being.
While the Indians pitching staff in the minors may seem thin, there are reinforcements coming from the lower levels. Clevinger, along with Adam Plutko, Shawn Morimondo, and Ryan Merrit are all examples of players who could benefit the big league club as soon as next season. Clevinger being one of the more promising prospects out of the few.
The Indians may have stolen a gem through trades once again.
The RubberDucks are currently sitting at a record of 43-39 and are third in the Eastern League Western Division.
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN Photographer