CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – Indians starter Mike Clevinger has found himself fighting for a roster spot with ace Corey Kluber set to return from his stint on the 10-day disabled list. It looked like he would get his third win as early as the 4th inning, with the team already up 4-0 headed into Clevinger’s fourth frame.
Things ended poorly for the young righty, as he gave up a crucial three-run home run to Brandon Moss in the 4th before escaping the inning, but Mike Moustakas tagged Clevinger for another solo shot to tie the game in the 5th.
Both homers came on the same pitch, the changeup low in the zone.
Moss’ big fly came when the string was pulled below the zone, where he normally struggles, though just above that spot, in the zone, the power lefty slugs the best of anywhere.
An inning later, Clevinger missed much more in the zone against the Royals’ home run leader, leaving his change right in Moustakas’s power alley.
“It was just an inconsistent day with that pitch,” Clevinger said. “That pitch stuck out to me that I just didn’t find consistency throughout the game. I’d get some good movement, some good bite, then I’d notice it would start trickling back over the plate and I’m not getting the same bite at the end.”
Coming into the night, Clevinger had plenty of reason to throw his change, sporting a 2.2 pitch value according to FanGraphs, the best pitch in his arsenal in 2017.
As with any pitcher making their name at the highest level, Clevinger’s book has begun to be written, and the opposition is adjusting. Since being recalled in relief of Kluber, Clevinger has pounded hitters low-and-away with that fastball-changeup combo to the tune of a 1.56 ERA.
That book was evident in the approach of the Royals early on. Clevinger only had to throw eight pitches in the top of the first, with three of the first five pitches put into play as the opposing hitters sought out the low-and-away pitches.
The errant changeups may have been a byproduct of the 26-year old seeing his main approach being attacked head-on, and he said he must readjust in a more proactive manner.
“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to those hitters, they made an adjustment real well to get to that outside pitch,” he said. “It’s not like I was missing on my heater or anything, they just made an adjustment, started going that way. They kind of changed their approach and I just need to be quicker to change mine and play that chess match a little bit better.”
Clevinger mentioned that he felt as if he had let his ‘family’ down by giving away a four run lead, but the body of work by the second-year player has been largely above average. Manager Terry Francona said he will make sure his young arm will not forget all that has worked out.
“It’s a shame because I thought he threw the ball pretty well,” the manager said. “On two changeups that both of them he kind of yanked across the plate, kind of went right into Moss’ swing path.
“And it’s a shame because he really – I think he had six strikeouts and only the one walk. That was the last hitter he faced. But you know, the damage was done. Like you said, on two swings. But he worked ahead, he did a lot of good things. I don’t want him to lose sight of that.”
Error, Not on the Side of Caution
Francisco Lindor took the blame for the series opening loss, because of his crucial 8th inning error that allowed Lorenzo Cain to get to third base with no outs.
After back to back innings of inning-ending double plays in which he started, Lindor tried to turn a largely unnecessary double play to start the 8th, allowing the eventual winning run to come around to score.
“Today’s loss is on me. I messed up,” the gold glover said. “The pitchers, they did a great job today as usual. The offense did a great job as well. Today is on me. I know it is not my first time, and it won’t be my last. But stuff like that can’t happen.”
Known for his near-flawless defense, Lindor tried to back-hand an Eric Hosmer grounder instead of keeping his body in front and taking the out at first. He admitted he should have been more cautious, but does not subscribe to a careful mindset.
“I play without a fear of making a mistake,” he said. “You try to go out there, and not try to make a mistake, not try to make an error. But I did. It was a tough one today. We will bounce back tomorrow, but it’ll be tough to drive home tonight.”
Corey Kluber’s rehab start at Double-A Akron went swimmingly on Friday, tossing five scoreless innings in which he allowed just one hit over the course of 15 batters.
Francona said Kluber threw 15 extra pitches in the bullpen following his outing, on top of the 47 he threw in game action. Of the 47, 33 pitches were strikes.
“I think everything went real well,” Francona said. “So we’ll sit down with him tomorrow and kind of see what the next step should be. And we may not know tomorrow, but we’ll sit down and talk to him among ourselves and see what – but he needs to be in that conversation. And one we’ll want to see how he bounces back, too.”