Tribe Notes: Clevinger pushing forward, Mercado learning and Cole emerging

Terry Francona likes what he's seen from Oscar Mercado

James Rapien
May 21, 2019 - 4:38 pm

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Fans clamored for Oscar Mercado for weeks, before the Indians promoted him from Triple-A on May 14. There were high expectations for the 24-year-old, who had an impressive spring for the Tribe. Mercado followed that up with a stellar start in Columbus. 

The youngster is trying to make it 3-for-3 by having successful start to his career in the big leagues. He's hitting .308 with a .438 on-base percentage in five games. 

"It’s early. One of the things we’re noticing about him is he’s a really thoughtful kid," manager Terry Francona said. "When you tell him something he thinks about it and you can tell he’s listening."

There are going to be growing pains, especially since the Indians are moving him around. He's made three starts in center field, one in left field and is scheduled to play in right field on Tuesday night against Oakland.  

"Last night he was a little too aggressive on the ball down the left field line," Francona said. "He’s been out in our left field twice. Those things are going to happen. He tried to throw somebody out at the plate yesterday, that ball’s got to go to second. Now, you’d much rather have guys going a little too hard than a little too slow. And you can talk to him and explain things."

Carlos Gonzalez thinks Mercado can be a great player at this level. He clearly has the speed, strength and size you look for in prospect. If he listens and soaks everything in from Francona and his teammates, there's no telling how good he could become. 

Clevinger Moving Forward – Indians starter Mike Clevinger continues to push forward in his quest to return to the mound. He suffered a Teres major muscle strain in his back in his second start of the season. He's recovering well and threw a bullpen session that included all of his pitches on Tuesday. 

The Indians are going to see how he recovers before deciding if Clevinger should throw another bullpen or pitch to hitters for the first time since the injury. 

"I guarantee you he does," Francona said when asked if Clevinger wanted to face hitters. "I think Carl’s holding his (breath). He’s throwing the ball so well, and you know how thoughtful Carl is, he just wants to make sure this kid doesn’t hurt himself."

It was a small sample size, but Clevinger was magnificent in his first two starts this season. He didn’t allow a run in 12 innings and had 22 strikeouts. The Indians are being careful with the 28-year-old, but he still has a chance to return on June 7, which is the first day he's eligible to come off of the injured list. 

Bullpen gets a Boost – A.J. Cole joined the Indians on May 11. He's added a different dynamic to a bullpen that had already exceeded expecations. Cole has allowed one run and four hits in 5⅓ innings. 

"Since he’s got here he’s been good," Francona said. "In a period where most bullpens rely on velocity, we’ve kind of gone in a different direction. Now, our guys have done really well, but it’s nice to have to have somebody out there that can rear back when they need to. Like he got behind a guy last night and threw a 3-1 fastball, 3-2 fastball and we saw that in spring training, but we didn’t see the touch and feel with the off-speed. And you know what, that’s part of why we talk about why it’s so hard to evaluate guys because even though they’re competing, it’s still spring training. Now he had six weeks under his belt and he looks like a different pitcher."

If there was one thing the bullpen needed after the first month of the season, it was a power arm that could come in and get an out when necessary. They have a great closer in Brad Hand and a variety of relievers with unique styles at Francona's disposal. 

The Indians' bullpen is second in Major League Baseball with a 2.96 ERA. Their workload could be a big reason why they've been so effective. Indians' relievers have thrown 140 innings going into Tuesday night's game against Oakland, which is the lowest in the MLB.