Suddenly, a strength of the Cleveland Indians’ roster has been exposed as the team announced on Monday that starting pitcher Mike Clevinger has been placed on the 10-day injured list with a “right upper back/Teres major muscle strain” suffered during the fifth inning of his start on Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays.
In the meantime, the club has recalled reliever Nick Wittgren from Triple-A Columbus to fill the open spot on the 25-man roster.
Clevinger is expected to miss more than six to eight weeks, as manager Terry Francona shared with the media on Monday morning that his hard-throwing right-hander is not expected to pick up a ball with the intent to throw it for six to eight weeks, meaning more time could be needed to get him back into game shape with a corresponding rehab assignment.
The loss of Clevinger is a devastating blow to the Indians rotation, as the starting staff was expected to carry the club throughout the season after major changes to the offensive construction of the roster in the offseason. Clevinger had been impressive through his first two outings, firing seven innings of one-hit baseball in his season debut last Monday against the Chicago White Sox with 12 strikeouts before working five scoreless frames, again allowing just one hit, while striking out ten against the Blue Jays on Sunday.
Clevinger said after the game Sunday that he experienced the back issue on the second pitch of the fifth inning. He remained on the mound and completed his three outs, but the team opted to pull him from the game after informing the staff of the back tightness. Clevinger even expressed after the game that the injury did not seem to be a major concern for him, but something changed in the time since then, as he will be on the shelf for the majority of the next two months.
Further hurting the Indians, the rotation depth at Triple-A Columbus likely falls short of what the team would like to see at the moment. Adam Plutko, who was expected to be the team’s first option up from the Clippers in the event of a spot start or injury, is himself injured. He remained in Goodyear, Arizona, to work with the team’s training staff there while dealing with a right forearm strain. The other top pitching prospect in the Tribe organization, Triston McKenzie, is also unable to contribute, as he is missing the start of his second straight season. Last season, right forearm tightness in spring training shut him down until June, and this season, a back strain of his own has him unable to pitch for a period of six weeks that should keep him out at minimum until the end of April. He is expected to report to Double-A Akron when he is ready to pitch in live games again.
The rotation in Columbus currently consists of Cody Anderson, Shao-Ching Chiang, Chih-Wei Hu, Jefry Rodriguez, and Asher Wojciechowski. Anderson, Hu, and Rodriguez are already members of the 40-man roster.
Anderson is trying to lengthen himself back out while making a long return from Tommy John surgery in 2017. He worked three scoreless innings in his first start of the year, striking out four and allowing just one hit. Chiang, 25, lasted five and two-thirds on April 5 against Indianapolis, giving up three runs on five hits (two home runs) with three walks, one hit batter, and six strikeouts. He was an undrafted signing by the Tribe in 2011. Hu came over from the Tampa Bay Rays in the offseason and is also in the process of getting stretched out into starting pitching duties after splitting time between the rotation and bullpen in the Rays organization last season. He allowed a run on two hits with three walks in two innings in his first start on April 4. The 25-year-old Rodriguez, acquired from Washington in the Yan Gomes trade, lasted five and two-thirds innings in his season debut on April 6, allowing three runs on seven hits with four strikeouts. Wojciechowski, a 30-year-old and the veteran of the bunch, allowing just one run on one hit with a walk and six strikeouts on April 8. Michael Peoples is also working in a way with the starting rotation, as he pitched four innings of long relief behind Anderson, giving up a run on four hits with two walks, one hit batter, and four strikeouts.
Wittgren, 27, was acquired over the winter from the Miami Marlins for minor league pitcher Jordan Milbrath. He had worked in a pair of contests for the Clippers, allowing two runs (one earned) on three hits with two walks and four strikeouts in two and one-third innings. He previously spent parts of the last three seasons in the Marlins’ big league bullpen. He owns a career line of 9-5 with two saves, a 3.60 ERA, and a 1.28 WHIP over 118 games.
Wittgren could be back in Columbus by the weekend, when the Indians will need a fifth starter for their series with the Kansas City Royals. Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Shane Bieber are the scheduled starters for the series in Detroit this week, while Carlos Carrasco is in line to pitch Friday in the series opener in Kansas City.
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