Clevinger ready for first post-season start after curbing adrenaline

Righty has six playoff appearances out of bullpen

Alex Hooper
October 03, 2018 - 5:21 pm
Sep 22, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Mike Clevinger (52) high fives catcher Yan Gomes (7) following the third out of the top of the the third inning at Progressive Field.

© Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – Cleveland Indians righty Mike Clevinger’s focus has been on calming his adrenaline in order to refocus on one batter at a time. That adrenaline may never have flowed more than it will on Monday at Progressive Field.

Luckily, the 27-year-old’s training has matched his career trajectory. Clevinger is slated to make his first career post-season start in Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Houston Astros, a just reward for becoming one of the league’s best arms.

Clevinger has six post-season appearances to his name, spanning seven innings between the 2016 ALCS, 2016 World Series and 2017 ALDS. All appearances thus far have been out of the bullpen, but now the righty will get the chance to start on a schedule.

That means he will have to harness that adrenaline.

“They’re two different animals, starting and relieving, especially in that environment,” Clevinger said. “So I haven’t gotten to start in that yet, but I’m definitely looking forward to get to go out there and get the first-inning nerves out of the way, and it not be your only inning.”

That honor has coincided with an effort to hone in with runners on base, something that had begun as a rough spot for Clevinger.

Manager Terry Francona noted stretches of multiple hitters where his burgeoning star would abandon his command in the early going in 2018. As those stretches became fewer and fewer, Clevinger settled further into becoming a continuation of the Indians’ dominant rotation.

“That was a huge focus, especially I think before the All-Star break,” the pitcher said. “Then I think we saw it kind of pay off. That stretch right after the All-Star break was really just keying in on that stretch, not letting – really keying in on what limiting damage really means. Not saying I want to minimize damage, but really knowing what I’m going to do to get that done. You really swallow your pride, and if you give up one or two, you can still stretch it out and keep your team in it for another four or five innings and keep your team in the ballgame.”

Prior to the season, Clevinger had spoken of his goal to throw 200 innings in 2018, something only accomplished with enough quality to remain in games. He wound up as one 13 pitchers in baseball to go 200 innings, hitting the benchmark exactly.

 As the year continued and those changes were implemented, Clevinger’s ERA and FIP stayed steady while the rest of the league generally sees a constant increase. Easily overshadowed in the rotation, ‘Sunshine’ finished with the league’s 12th-lowest ERA and 18th-lowest FIP.

In 2018, Clevinger pitched his best with runners on, allowing a .611 OPS against over 312 plate appearances, compared to a .683 mark against with the bases empty. His .563 OPS against when pitching while trailing also led his .691 OPS when ahead.

On the contrary, Clevinger has not been as crisp in high leverage situations, allowing 20 hits in 110 plate appearances under duress, including a .686 OPS.

Clevinger and the Indians hope there are higher stakes to come, but to this point in the pitcher’s career, there may never have been more leverage than there will be Monday.