Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 52 – Mike Clevinger
Bob Toth | On 04, Feb 2019
Major League Baseball will kick off the 2019 season with its earliest start ever (excluding international openers) as all 30 teams will take the field on March 28. Follow along with Did The Tribe Win Last Night as we count down the days until Opening Day 2019. – BT
Countdown to Opening Day – 52 days
The emergence of Tribe right-hander Mike Clevinger, the current wearer of the number 52 in Cleveland, as a solid middle of the rotation arm and a sleeper Cy Young pick for the coming season was one of many reasons why the Indians were comfortable listening to offers for front end starters like Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer during the offseason.
While the team (thus far) has elected to move forward with the present starting rotation intact, that is not necessarily a bad thing. The starting staff has been one of the stronger parts of the club and if the team did not feel that an offer on the table for one of its primo pitchers was good enough to help supplement a weakened offense (due to free agency and significant salary cuts that led to offseason trades of Yonder Alonso, Edwin Encarnacion, and Yan Gomes, among others) and a thinned out bullpen (which waved goodbye to closer Cody Allen and two-time All-Star Andrew Miller), it was best for now to keep that portion of the team full of necessary depth.
Clevinger is one of the pieces that gives the Indians flexibility. He may slot in as the number four man on manager Terry Francona’s staff behind Kluber, Bauer, and Carlos Carrasco, but it does not mean he is the conventional fourth starter. In fact, in his short stay in the Majors, he has blossomed into a legitimate threat and a well-branded personality as well.
The long-haired “Sunshine”, known for his flashy shoes and decorated gloves on the mound, climbed through the Tribe’s farm system after essentially being given up on by the pitching starved Los Angeles Angels in the trade of Vinnie Pestano in 2014.
He burst onto the scene in 2016, taking full advantage of the opportunity provided him, and was able to appear in postseason action out of the bullpen during the team’s extensive playoff run. He bounced back and forth between the rotation and bullpen during his first two seasons in an Indians uniform and put up good overall numbers in his second campaign, going 12-6 with a 3.11 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP with a 10.1 strikeout per nine rate in 27 games (21 starts) that season.
He built off of those strong numbers again last season. He went 13-8 in 32 starts while throwing his first complete game shutout. He posted career bests with a 3.02 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP over the course of the season and he cut back significantly on his walk rate, dropping it by nearly a walk and a half per nine innings pitched compared to the prior season. He landed on the 200 innings pitch mark on the dot, and he struck out 207 batters on the year to give the rotation four 200-K hurlers.
The Indians will hope for more of the same for the 28-year-old, who is under team control until 2023 and has yet to hit the arbitration years in his contract. He has put himself on the radar as one of the up and coming pitchers in the game and has contributed numbers on pace with his rotation mates. The young father was a fourth round pick by the Angels in 2011 out of Seminole Community College in Sanford, Florida, and spent four years in their farm system until his career took a good turn and brought him to Ohio.
With Clevinger’s budding star bringing new success to the number 52, it continues a good run for the digit 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. The number next appeared nearly 20 years later, 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 that 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. He is now employed by the Cincinnati Reds as a scout.
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. He enters his 21st season of pro ball this year and his 19th in the Majors.
The number went unused for a few years, with some big shoes to fill in Sabathia’s departure. 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. He spent 2011 and 2012 as a workhorse through the bullpen gates, 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 straight up for the prospect Clevinger. “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 for an MLB affiliate in 2016, working in eight games at Triple-A for the New York Yankees. He has made 44 relief appearances over the last two years in the independent Atlantic League for Bridgeport and Long Island.
Bruce Chen donned the digits in his brief stint with the club in 2015 before Clevinger was called up from the minors and claimed it for his own.
Photo: Jason O. Watson/Getty Images
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