Houston (92.3 The Fan) – If the Indians need another starter come playoff time, as they did at points in 2016, they can be sure to call Mike Clevinger. They might not have to call him, because the right-hander may stay with the team for the long haul.
Clevinger was able to pitch in the 2016 post-season, but did not, remaining in the bullpen for the duration without an appearance.
The Indians do not need a replacement for anyone in their rotation at the moment, if healthy. But if Corey Kluber’s back injury has shown anything for the defending AL Champions, it is that if anyone in the rotation continues to waiver, there is another capable arm waiting in the wings.
That may not have been known last year, as there were options for Terry Francona in the absence of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, but no sure things.
Now there is, and he had shown it prior to his six-inning no-hit bid against the best team in baseball.
Clevinger had shown his ability to command his pitches well enough to keep balance prior to Saturday, but had struggled with the ability to locate well enough to keep hitters off base. That issue had also been enough to limit the righty to a season-high of 5 2/3 innings in his first two starts.
The 26-year old has shown a propensity to keep the ball low in the zone, but dialed it up a notch in the best outing of his big league career, throwing the vast majority of his pitches below the belt. The difference against the Astros was the ability to get swings and misses consistently.
It was not a case of one pitch doing the majority of the damage, either. Statcast registered a single two-seam fastball, the only pitch Clevinger used on Saturday that did not garner a swing and miss.
That being said, the breaking ball did a good deal of damage, with seven swinging strikes on 22 sliders, and five swing-and-misses on 16 curveballs. A great deal of breaking balls were out of the zone, and almost the entirety of those left over were scraping corners.
The kicker is that those swings and misses came against the seventh-most patient team in all of baseball. For a team that has a seemingly collective third-eye at the dish to have so little success against the pitcher keeping the ball low to low-and-out says something about the stuff of the guy on the mound.
Remaining aware of the relatively small sample size, conclusions can be drawn from what Clevinger has been able to do at the Triple-A and Major League levels to this point in the year. He is by no means a finished product, but has shown himself to be capable enough to carry the load when need be.
That was not necessarily the case last year.
With a sixth arm ready and capable, there is no need to patch-fill spot starts with the likes of Zach McAllister and Cody Anderson, unavailable for the season anyway with Tommy John.
There may not be a need to replace Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer or Danny Salazar, all of whom have struggled at times this year, as well as turning in quality starts.
Even if that is not the case, there will be injuries along the way. Mike Clevinger will be the man to deal with them.
If he gets another chance before Kluber returns, the young right-hander may play himself into the bigger picture before he is needed.