CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – For what seems like the entirety of the season, there have been questions about where Danny Salazar fits in the Indians’ post-season rotation. For what seems like the entirety of his season, Mike Clevinger has shown that he will be perfectly fine as a fallback.
The 26-year old was exceptional again on Friday, tossing six scoreless innings with just three hits and walks a piece. He struck out seven.
Clevinger became the first Indians pitcher to throw six-or-more scoreless innings in three consecutive starts since John Denny did so in 1981.
The right-hander has talked about fighting through episodes of ‘nit-picking’ in his first full season, leading to walks that wound up as the main source of his earned runs.
Given the sheer amount that Clevinger has pounded the bottom of the zone to the opposite of his arm slot, you can see why trying to be fine would be problematic.
That arm slot and general target is also conducive to Clevinger’s slider, which carries a 45.8 K% on the season, and has served as his putaway pitch. Against righties with two strikes, Clevinger uses his slider 41% of the time, using his four-seam fastball on 42% of two-strike pitches.
But Friday was a departure from that, as five of Clevinger’s seven strikeouts came on four-seam fastballs.
Above: Clevinger’s overall pitch chart compared to pitch types on third strikes
The case was the same on September 1st, when five of Clevinger’s six strikeouts came on fastballs. Both starts were a departure from his earlier starts when the majority of his strikeouts came on off-speed pitches.
It could be a change based on the fact that, well, it is working. But also, Clevinger noted that he was actively avoiding working the edges as of late, opting to just let his defense do the work.
Clevinger’s catcher, Roberto Perez, noted the change in aggression, though at the opposite end of counts.
“It’s fun when you’re on the mound and you’re able to throw a lot of strikes and not fall behind,” Perez said. “He’s doing a very great job of throwing first-pitch strikes and putting guys away. Tonight, he had command of all his pitches when we needed to.”
Friday night was Clevinger’s fourth straight start in which he threw over 60% of first-pitch strikes. He had only done so once in his five prior starts.
As starting pitching has been a key through the Indians’ now 16-game win streak, Clevinger has been a pillar of strength in his three outings, something that has become a point of pride.
“I feel like it’s more so just the standards get set and the bar gets higher and higher and then you try to meet that bar each time you go out there,” he said.
His manager, Terry Francona, sees positivity in the growth of his young starter as he has fought through ruts to continue and alter his approach.
“I think with guys that are good enough. Yeah, it’s nice to see though because not everybody does that,” Francona said. “But, he is, he’s getting better and he’s maturing and it gets exciting. It’s fun to watch guys get better.”