CLEVELAND, Ohio — Mike Clevinger has found success in recent seasons for the Cleveland Indians by making adjustments to his pitching mechanics not only from at-bat to at-bat, but from pitch to pitch in some cases. After Clevinger’s most recent outing resulted in a 4-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Friday at Target Field, the 29-year-old righty said there are a few areas that need improvement.
Clevinger, whose four runs allowed was the most he’d allowed to the Twins in his last six starts against Minnesota, has given up multiple home runs in both of his starts this season. His five walks were one short of a career high and the most he’s allowed since Sept. 22, 2018 against Boston.
Injured early in spring training, Clevinger underwent surgery on his left knee, but rehabbed throughout the four-month coronavirus layoff before arriving at summer training camp ready to step back into Cleveland’s starting rotation. However, the Florida native said somewhere in the interim his pitching mechanics deviated and hitters are taking advantage.
“My hypothesis now until we get back to work is I was getting out of my mechanics protecting my knee,” Clevinger said. “Once I got to the point of trusting it, I already kind of messed a couple things up.”
Clevinger noted that his release point has changed, his “heels aren’t sinking” and other small areas where that he attributed to protecting his surgically-repaired knee when he first began his throwing program.
“Now I’ve just got to get back to being me and I’m pretty good at doing that,” he said.
Clevinger threw 38 pitches in the first inning Friday, marking his longest opening inning by pitch count and the second-longest inning overall of his career. Afterward he started to break down video of his outing and noticed a handful of small differences that led to big mistakes against a Twins lineup that feasts on miscues.
“My leg lift is causing me to leak forward, I’m getting on my toes and I go on my heel,” he said. “We’re seeing stuff that’s kind of blatant right now and I think fixing those will be a huge thing for me.”
Clevinger settled in briefly in the third inning, striking out Nelson Cruz on a slider and getting Jake Cave to ground out. By that point, Clevinger had resigned himself to throwing as many competitive pitches as possible for the remainder of his outing.
“Even though I felt like I had knives at a gun fight, I was competing with my knives,” he said. “I went back from trying to find that feeling of being me again to let’s compete. Let’s try to punch them back because they just punched me. That kind of turned it around for like a minute there.”
Manager Terry Francona didn’t see Friday’s outing as entirely bad for Clevinger. Francona noted that Clevinger’s strike-to-ball ration was a little better than 50% and that against a stacked Minnesota lineup he was able to battle through four innings despite running into some deep counts against hitters.
“He’s still trying to feel his body, and by that probably his legs,” Francona said. “He just threw some pitches that weren’t really where he was trying to locate.”
Francona credited Clevinger for surviving Friday’s long first inning and working through four frames in order to preserve Cleveland’s bullpen to a degree.
“He stayed out there for four so nobody had to overextend, which is good,” Francona added.
Clevinger said he will make changes over the next several days and hopes to see better results when he takes the mound again, likely against Cincinnati on Wednesday at Progressive Field. He said finding the patience that will get him to that point might be challenging.
“The biggest difficulty, especially with me, is I like to get after it and I want to see change,” Clevinger said. “You can’t do that right now. You have to really balance that workload and that rehab with it along with the schedule and who we’re facing. So it’s just like a lot of balance and workload that it’s gonna be back and forth. But I mean, it’s still early. If the worst case scenario right now is (giving up) four runs, then we can go from there.”
New Indians face masks for sale: Here’s where you can buy Cleveland Indians-themed face coverings for coronavirus protection, including a single mask ($14.99) and a 3-pack ($24.99). All MLB proceeds donated to charity.
More Indians coverage