CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – ‘Not a banishment, but a breather,’ was how Indians starter Mike Clevinger described his 11 days out of the starting rotation.
With one relief appearance sprinkled in, the team and Clevinger are back to deep breaths over the trajectory of the righty’s season. Not that they were breathing too heavily.
The 26-year old tossed four quality starts before he hit a skid of two starts in which he allowed five earned runs in less than five innings. On Saturday in front of 40-or-more family members in Tampa Bay, the Jacksonville, FL native returned to a night of quality by tossing seven shutout innings.
That breather, according to Clevinger, gave him the ability to reflect at where he had gone wrong during the hiccup. The conclusion he arrived at was that it was all in his head.
“I think those two starts, I kind of might have been thinking too much internally and there wasn’t a whole lot of external focus at the plate,” he said. “I think that breather kind of let me set things straight. Once you get on the field, I think it’s, you’re attacking the plate, you’re not worried about what’s going on on the mound.”
The attacking mentality has been something that Pitching Coach Mickey Callaway has worked on with the Indians starters all year, not just Clevinger. But with a high walk percentage in the early going, the approach was perhaps more instrumental to the second-year hurler’s success.
With that in mind, Clevinger struck out nine, while walking one in addition to scattering four hits.
“That was kind of when my starts would trickle and get bad was when I would start getting nitpicky on the edges, so it was kind of staying more centralized, more towards the place, getting my momentum towards the plate and not toward first base,” Clevinger said.
The righty threw an exact 50/50 (or 49/49 in this case) split of his fastball and off-speed options across 49 pitches. Clevinger’s four-seamer accounted for 20 of his 34 non-batted strikes against the free-swinging Rays, and was the finisher on four of the nine strikeouts.
The Indians shutout makes it two straight against the Rays, and the timing could not be much better. Despite winning three-of-five, the Tribe offense has accounted for just 18 runs over their past seven, something Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco circumvented.
“He climbed back into the count a few times, but then he executed pitches,” Manager Terry Francona said of Clevinger. “I think we set the bar high for him just because he’s got such good stuff, but that was just so encouraging. Keeping them off the board, we get three, but it makes it look like enough because of the way he’s pitched.”