Mike Clevinger’s rehab start in Akron on Tuesday night was much more in line with the Indians’ hopes than his first game back with the Columbus Clippers while recovering from a right upper back/Teres major muscle strain. Now, he is in line to return to the Show next week.
The 28-year-old’s next start is tentatively scheduled for Monday, opening Cleveland’s four-game series in Texas against the American League Wild Card contending Rangers. Clevinger’s return marks an impressive turnaround time from an injury that was supposed to prevent him from throwing for six to eight weeks, not counting the additional time needed to build up strength and rehab.
“I was trying to come back and throw the next day,” Clevinger said on Wednesday. “I asked them every day, even though I knew the timeline. I was like, ‘I feel good, can I throw today?’ I asked them every day to the point they that they were just getting pissed off at me for asking. I’d ask, ‘Can I throw today? It feels fine. It feels good.”
Clevinger gave the RubberDucks five and one-third scoreless innings in a crisp showing Tuesday against the Hartford Yard Goats in his second rehab start and just his fourth overall appearance of the 2019 season. He threw 51 of 67 pitches (76%!) for strikes and had a devastating off-speed pitch that accounted for four of his five strikeouts on the night. He gave up no runs and no walks while allowing just three hits total against the 19 batters that he faced. All the more encouraging, his fastball sat in the mid- to upper-90s and he got 16 swinging strikes as he kept the Yard Goats off balance.
Clevinger used much more of the zone in his outing against Hartford than in his initial rehab appearance. In the first, he used just eleven pitches to strike out a pair in a 1-2-3 frame. He had some base traffic in the second and was out of the stretch quickly as the first batter reached on error, but he was able to escape the inning unscathed, even after a single and a pair of stolen bases put two in scoring position. At 25 pitches after two, he added just nine more in a quick third frame, getting a pair of groundouts and a line out to move to the fourth. He struck out a pair that inning and added another in the fifth as he worked around a pair of singles with a big caught stealing. He came back to the mound for the sixth and threw four more pitches, getting a groundout to end his outing before turning the game over to Akron’s Jake Paulson, who would later earn the win as the pitcher of record when the RubberDucks took the lead in the bottom of the seventh.
His previous start left something to be desired from a statistical standpoint. Facing the Norfolk Tides for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers on June 6, Clevinger scattered 58 pitches over just two-plus innings. He allowed four runs on three hits with two walks and four strikeouts. All three knocks went for extra bases (two doubles, one homer) and nothing was hit on the ground.
He needed 21 pitches to retire the side in order in the first with a pair of strikeouts as he constantly pounded the zone low and what would be in to righties. He made 23 pitches in the second, starting strong with a strikeout before a walk. A flyout had the inning hanging in the balance, but a homer and a double put Norfolk on the board and kept the inning moving. He got a 3-2 strikeout to end that inning and returned for the third at 44 pitches, but two long at bats to open the inning (resulting in an eight-pitch double and a six-pitch walk) led to his exit while the Indians closely monitored his pitch count in his first rehab start.
The numbers looked unsettling, but he did show that the injury had not tapped negatively into his velocity. He also shared after his start in Akron that he was dealing with a cold while pitching in Columbus, which may have led to some of his inconsistencies.
The prospective return of Clevinger will bolster the injury-depleted starting rotation of the Tribe, which is down three-fifths of its starting five from the beginning of the season, with Clevinger (back), Corey Kluber (broken right arm), and Carlos Carrasco (blood disorder) all currently out of action. Additionally, the team lost right-hander Jefry Rodriguez, who helped stabilize the staff initially after the loss of Clevinger, to a right shoulder strain. Others who have come up from Columbus – Adam Plutko and Cody Anderson – have not provided the results hoped for, but Plutko is getting another look now and is scheduled to pitch against Detroit on Friday night.
The loss of Clevinger in April was as untimely as they come. Clevinger opened Progressive Field for the year with an incredible performance, firing seven shutout innings of one-hit baseball with three walks and 12 strikeouts against the Chicago White Sox in a no-decision. He was on fire again in his second outing, lasting five scoreless one-hit innings at home against the Toronto Blue Jays with ten more strikeouts and a walk before he was removed for precautionary reasons with discomfort in his back.
Thought initially to be a mild injury, it turned out to be significant as he was diagnosed with a right upper back/Teres major muscle strain. The hard-throwing right-hander, placed on the 60-day injured list on April 9, has been off of the big league mound for the two months that have followed, leaving a notable void in the starting five. In his two starts before the injury, he was 1-0 with 22 strikeouts, four walks, and two hits allowed in 12 innings of work (0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP).
The team’s push for significance and a spot in the playoff picture for 2019 will be linked to how Clevinger can help carry the pitching staff and keep runs at a minimum to make up for the inconsistent and often underperforming offensive side of the team’s game.
Photo: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire (via Getty Images)