With the recent rash of injuries to the Indians starting five, the team has called upon Mike Clevinger to take the pressure off of the rest of the staff.
Clevinger took Corey Kluber’s turn in the rotation last Sunday, hurling 5 2/3 scoreless innings and allowing one solitary hit. He did issue four walks, hearkening back to a problem he had during his 53-inning major league trial in 2016. Clevinger pitched solidly in the minors last year and also threw 53 near-replacement innings for the Indians. This season, he’s dialed his strikeout rate up to 29% in Columbus and also cut down on his walks. The Indians were hoping he would continue that trend in Cleveland.
Taking a wider perspective, Clevinger only has 12 career starts with a 1.3 WHIP and is striking out 25 percent of batters while showing a solid arsenal but is a fringe major league starter. How is that so? That’s the thing about walks, however. Right now, Clevinger is walking 22.5 percent of hitters. In a vacuum, it’s not what will eventually stick at the major-league level. But they haven’t hurt him as we expect walks to, because he’s also never giving up any hits. Through ten innings this season with Cleveland, he’s allowed four hits. This is for two reasons. First, he throws several good pitches, and keeps the ball down. Second, he pitches “effectively wild.
We need to look no further than his recent start against the Twins on the 13th to see just how “effectively wild” he really is:
The pitch placement as shown above is the perfect indicator of who Clevinger has been and who he’ll probably be moving forward.
In the game against the Twins, he seemed almost afraid to actually pitch to the Minnesota batters at times. Walking Miguel Sano is fine, even if the style was a bit bothersome. In the first inning, Clevinger got him down 1-2 then ended up walking him three pitches later. But Sano can hit a ball out of space-time if you aren’t careful. It’s players like Jorge Polanco, he of the career 100 wRC+, and the slower than that start to the season.
That timidness is certainly a cause for concern. No room for a “timid” pitcher at the major-league level.
However, there is one caveat that the Indians need to explore in further detail: His ability to pitch in the bullpen.
Against Evan Longoria though, Clevinger threw precisely zero fastballs. He went slider, curve, changeup. The fastest pitch was about 87 mph. This was fun for two reasons. First, in a sense he still used that fastball, even without using it. You know Longoria was sitting fastball because its’ a young pitcher pressed into relief duty on short notice, so of course he’d throw a fastball. Clevinger (or possibly Gomes) simply out-thought Longoria. Second, it showed that Clevinger, as well as the coaches and catchers, do trust his off-speed stuff enough to execute that next level type of pitching.