CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Mike Clevinger looked up at the scoreboard in the top of the fourth and was shocked by what he saw.
“I was looking to see who was coming up on the board,” the rookie starting pitcher said. “And I was like, ‘Wait, there are no hits up there.'”
Understandably, the revelation startled the young hurler for a moment.
“It took me back for a second,” Clevinger said. “There was a run on the board, so I wasn’t even thinking about hits at that point. It definitely took me back a little bit.”
It stayed that way until sixth, when a two-out chopper by Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons made its way past the outstretched glove of Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor, getting Los Angeles in the hit column for the first time against their former right-handed pitching prospect.
That would be the only hit Cleveland would allow in the Tribe’s 5-1 victory over the Angels at Progressive Field on Saturday night.
For Clevinger, who was facing the organization that traded him to the Indians in 2014 for reliever Vinnie Pestano, his first Major League victory couldn’t taste any sweeter.
“It was storybook-esque,” he said. “It was everything I could imagine and more. It’s hard to describe right now.”
The 25-year-old righty lasted 5 2/3 innings on Saturday night, yielding just one hit and one run — a solo tally that crossed the plate in the top of the second inning — working his way around four walks, while registering three strikeouts.
And he did it all while battling a blister on his middle finger. But there was no way he was going to let that little “inconvenience” get in the way of showing his former team what they were missing.
“He came out and his stuff – kind of like a lot of times – his stuff was pretty electric early,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He had some walks, there was some traffic, but he really competed. I thought he pitched through a tight strike zone early that looked like it might rattle him a little bit, but he kind of gained his composure and got him out.”
Perhaps the biggest assist he received came from third baseman Jose Ramirez, who made a diving stop after two hitters reached on walks in the top of the second. A run scored on the play, but the double-robbing leatherwork at the hot corner helped Clevinger limit the damage.
“That might have turned the game around,” Clevinger said. “That might have been the point in the game that made it how it was. I probably hugged him 25 times since he’s left the field.”
This column features my takeaways from Saturday’s game. If you want more baseball coverage, you can follow me on Twitter (@TJZuppe).
1. MY FAVORITE
Andrew Miller was brought to Cleveland for matchups like the one that ended the eighth inning on Saturday night. With a runner on first base — the only batter to reach against Miller in the frame — the dominant southpaw had already struck out two hitters in the inning.
The Indians’ lead was a solid four runs, but with superstar outfielder Mike Trout stepping to the dish, the upcoming Miller-Trout face-off was everything a baseball fan dreams about. Anyone that was hoping for an epic 11-pitch showdown between the two talents was instead treated to some extreme filth hurled from the left hand of the lanky reliever.
Three pitches. Two swings. One strikeout. Good morning, good afternoon, and goodnight.
“I told him when we walked off, ‘You’re my favorite pitcher now because you made him look like me if I was facing you,'” catcher Chris Gimenez said with a giant smile. “If we can get a lead or tie game going into the fifth, sixth, seventh inning, we’re going to have a chance to win that game.”
2. SOME CREDIT
And while we’re in the business of handing out credit, some is due to righty Bryan Shaw, who worked a 1-2-3 seventh inning for Cleveland. Shaw has been a punching bag for many fans throughout the season, but his often neglected success is proof that the job of a reliever is typically thankless and unforgiving.
Do you job? It goes unnoticed. Give up a run? It won’t be forgotten.
Of course, Shaw has certainly has his hiccups. And boy, have they been gigantic. But for the most part, the righty continues to give Cleveland some pretty steady production out of the bullpen. And with Miller now in the mix at the back-end of the pen, Shaw’s contributions have fit nicely into a more complementary seventh-inning role.
Dan Otero, Shaw, Miller and Cody Allen teamed up with Clevinger to hold Los Angeles to just one hit on Saturday night.
3. TRIPLE THREAT
Jose Ramirez extended his hitting streak to 17 games with an RBI double in the bottom of the first, his 36th hit this season with a runner in scoring position.
In addition to his impressive offensive contributions this season, an ability to settle into playing third base every day — not bouncing around position-to-position on a nightly basis — seems to have the 23-year-old infielder feeling much more comfortable with the glove.
That was evident during his second-inning diving stop and throw to save the Angels from tying Saturday’s game.
“I mean Jose is a special man right there,” Gimenez said. “Hair, glove, bat, you name it. He’s 3-for-3 right now and he can probably dance, do all kinds of things.”
We’ve seen the hair, glove and bat. Maybe he’ll save the dancing for Sunday.
4. BE LIKE MIKE
Not only have the Indians won the first three games of the four-game set, but Francona has been able to get both of his starting middle infielders, Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis, off their feet over the past two games, each getting a turn to the DH slot with Carlos Santana out of the lineup.
In their place, Twitter’s favorite utility-infielder, Michael Martinez, has played each of their positions over the past two nights, contributing a little with the bat — he was 2-for-7 over the pair of games — but also playing a sound middle infield, which included a nice diving stop at second base on Saturday night.
“He catches the ball so well, he has good energy, he knows the game,” Francona said. “And then he’s kind of chipped in.”
This late in the season, any chance of getting Lindor and Kipnis a bit of a blow is a blessing. It’s even better when the guy playing in their normal spot helps lift the club to victory on back-to-back nights.