Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 52
Bob Toth | On 03, Feb 2020
Baseball takes little time off in between seasons, so neither can we. Follow along at Did the Tribe Win Last Night as we count down to March 26, when the Cleveland Indians host the Detroit Tigers for game one of the 2020 season. – BT
Countdown to Opening Day – 52 days
All things considered, given the amount of time that he missed in 2019, Mike Clevinger’s numbers over the course of the year were absolutely spectacular.
Serving at the time as the Tribe’s fourth starter behind Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Carlos Carrasco, Clevinger came out of the gate on fire, striking out 22 batters over 12 innings while making a pair of scoreless one-hit performances against the Chicago White Sox (in the Indians’ home opener) and the Toronto Blue Jays. But just as it looked that Clevinger’s fourth season had the makings of being an incredible breakout campaign, he was lost in that April 7 decision with a strain in his back.
The high grade strain of his right teres major muscle was supposed to keep the 28-year-old right-hander on the shelf for at least six to eight weeks, but by the end of the month, he defied that time table and picked up a baseball. The Indians moved him to the 60-day injured list after a week on the 10-day list, leaving him unable to contribute until the beginning of June, but the team also took a measured and cautious approach with their young pitcher.
Clevinger returned to the big league mound on June 17, allowing five runs on three hits with three walks in a loss in Texas against the Rangers, but an ankle sprain suffered during the outing sent him back to the 10-day injured list. This injury was nowhere near as damaging as the first, however, and he was back on the field in Baltimore on June 28, when he was rocked for seven runs over an inning and two-thirds.
“Sunshine” looked far more like the pitcher that opened the season during the month of July, when he made four quality starts in five trips to the mound while allowing just six runs in the span of 31 innings (1.74 ERA). He went 4-0, striking out 41 batters and allowing just 27 hits and five walks during the fourth month of the baseball calendar. He matched his season-high with 12 strikeouts over six innings in his July 17 win over the Detroit Tigers.
Clevinger kept up the dominant work in August, making three more quality starts in his six games. He was just as productive that month, going 5-0 with a 1.96 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP while holding opposing hitters to a .207 average against him. He averaged 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings of work with just one rough outing in that stretch (a no-decision against Boston when he allowed four runs on eleven hits in four and two-thirds innings).
He made six straight quality starts from August 29 to September 24, striking out ten batters in three of those games while allowing no more than two runs in any one appearance. His ten Ks in eight shutout innings of four-hit baseball in Detroit in his final start of August may have been his best start of the year (after his one-hitter in seven innings with 12 strikeouts to start the season). He closed out the 2019 schedule with a bit of a clunker, giving up six runs on seven hits in five and two-thirds innings on September 29 against the eventual World Champion Washington Nationals.
When the Indians needed every win, Clevinger was there for them. In his 16 second half starts, he posted an 11-2 record with a 2.30 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP with 11.4 K/9. He ended the year with a 13-4 record with a 2.71 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP in 21 starts, striking out 169 batters over 126 innings of work. One can only wonder what numbers he could have put up over a full slate of work.
If there was a blemish on Clevinger’s stat sheet, it was mixed results against left-handed hitters. Facing lefties 33 times more than he faced righties, Clevinger walked three times as many of them (28 walks to lefties compared to nine by righties). They hit slightly better against him (.219 to .198) and had a bit more success in the power department (six more doubles and the same amount of homers). The walk disparity led to a 2.64 strikeout-to-walk rate against left-handed hitters, while right-handed ones saw a 10.56 mark.
Clevinger did have some run support on his side, as the Indians scored three runs or more in 16 of his 21 starts. In those five games without strong support, Clevinger went 1-4 with a 6.43 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP. He was 12-0 in the other 16 games with a 1.65 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP. He rarely made matters worse for himself, as just 19 times on the year did he put himself in 3-0 count and when that happened, he found a way out of it, allowing just a double in those circumstances.
With Bauer and Kluber since traded and Carrasco’s contributions moving forward being something of an unknown with his leukemia battle, Clevinger has moved from the team’s fourth starter to the top arm on the staff. He pitched that way in 2019, but he will be the true ace of the Tribe in 2020. The team will go as he goes, but given his results in his abbreviated body of work in 2019, the sky is the limit for Clevinger. Not bad for a guy who seemed like a throwaway piece in 2014 when he was acquired by the Indians from the Los Angeles Angels for reliever Vinnie Pestano.
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. His 19th big league season in 2019 was his last, as he announced his retirement from Major League Baseball with a career record of 251-161.
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 in total in 2017 and 2018 in the independent Atlantic League for Bridgeport and Long Island, but he did not pitch professionally in 2019.
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: Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images
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