Covering the Bases: Game 48
Some notes and quotes from Sunday’s 6-4 loss to Baltimore.
FIRST: Every pitcher who is fortunate enough to reach the Major Leagues learns a valuable lesson. Three starts into his big league career, Mike Clevinger has received that lesson loud and clear from the hitters he has faced.
“It’s just how easily a mistake is capitalized on,” Clevinger said.
A pitcher with the stuff that Clevinger has can get away with slight missteps in the Minors. In The Show, the batters are paid good money to exploit those same missteps. Through his first three outings in the big leagues, Clevinger has displayed the makings of a talented pitcher, but also the youthfulness of a rookie getting his first taste.
With his latest effort, which consisted of 89 pitches in four innings, Clevinger saw his season ERA climb to 8.79 through 14.1 innings.
“I don’t think these three starts are going to define who he is in his Major League career,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I think he’s going to do some really good things. Like a lot of inexperienced pitchers, players, you’re kind of learning on the run right now. I think when you make a mistake here, you pay for it more.”
At 25 years old, Clevinger isn’t exactly a young pup, but he is low on mileage thanks to Tommy John surgery a few years back. He is also still only a couple years into the mechanical overhaul that he went through after being acquired by Cleveland in 2014. it would be ill-advised to draw any sweeping conclusions from his three outings to date.
Think back to Corey Kluber. Through his Age-26 season, the righty had a 5.35 ERA and only 15 big league appearances under his belt. Or, think back to Carlos Carrasco. He went 10-15 with a 4.93 ERA before his Age-25 season, which he actually missed due to Tommy John. More often than not, it takes time for pitchers to learn, adjust and develop into big league starters.
“There’s no part of me that doesn’t think I belong,” Clevinger said. “That’s not there. It’s consistency and finding that even keel.”
Clevinger looked to have found that after the three-run double he gave up to Mark Trumbo in the first inning. Following that hit, Baltimore went 2-for-12 against the right-hander the rest of the way. In the second, Clevinger ended the inning with a nice 3-2 slider to Manny Machado, who swung through the ninth pitch of the at-bat for a strikeout.
“It finally felt like I was pitching instead of throwing,” Clevinger said. “It kind of felt like I was throwing at the beginning and I was out of my mechanics. I wasn’t there mentally, it didn’t feel like, until I got into the second and started finding my groove.”
SECOND: As alluded to above, a key moment in this one arrived in the first inning, when Clevinger squared off against Trumbo with the bases loaded and one out.
Clevinger reached this encounter after issuing a leadoff walk to Adam Jones, allowing a one-out single to Machado and then walking Chris Davis. After falling behind with a first-pitch changeup in the dirt, the rookie pitcher stuck with fastballs the rest of the way against Trumbo.
As you can see, the seventh pitch was over the middle and slightly up. That’s the ol’ wheelhouse, and Trumbo licked his chops and sent the pitch rocketing to the big green wall in left at a speed of 116 mph off the bat. It was damage enough to score three runs for the Orioles.
“With the way my fastball command was in the first inning,” Clevinger said, “it was hit or miss with where that was going to go. I was trying to throw a fastball away. Usually, when I have my command going, I might not have even gone to … two fastballs in a row 3-2 to him right there. But, I kind of cornered myself into throwing that pitch either way and I left it up and he capitalized.”
THIRD: After Clevinger was pulled from the contest, reliever Dan Otero took over on the hill and gave the Tribe a terrific effort. The righty faced seven batters, retiring six to spin a pair of shutout innings that halted Baltimore’s offense in its tracks.
“Oh man,” Francona said. “At the time, that completely gave us a chance to win the game. He calmed the game down for us. We didn’t win, but it was exactly what we needed. We needed to slow them down, give ourselves a chance.”
Down 4-0, the Indians fought back into a tie thanks to a trio of home runs.
Carlos Santana led off the fourth with a blast to right field. Statcast measured it at 99.5 mph off the bat and gave it a projected distance of 402 feet. Mike Napoli one-upped him with a two-run shot later in the fourth. That one had a 101.4 exit velo and flew 407 feet. Napoli’s blast came off Chris Tillman’s knuckle-curve.
Not to be out-done, Jason Kipnis came through with a shot of his own in the sixth. His was 102.6 mph off the lumber and sailed 408 feet out to right field.
HOME: This defeat, however, was defined by missed chances in the later innings.
In the ninth, Marlon Byrd and Rajai Davis came through with consecutive singles to get things started against closer Zach Britton. Britton then got Santana to ground out before fanning Kipnis and Francisco Lindor to end the game.
The biggest at-bat of the afternoon came in the eighth, though.
With one out and runners on first and second, Orioles reliever Darren O’Day elected to intentionally walk Jose Ramirez. Not only did this set up a potential double play, but it helped Baltimore avoid facing one of the Tribe’s best clutch hitters this season (which I wrote about pregame).
That move prompted Francona to turn to Lonnie Chisenhall as a pinch-hitter for Juan Uribe. SAMPLE SIZE ALERT! on all of this, but… Chisenhall headed to the plate with one career homer off O’Day, plus a .375 average with RISP/less than two outs and a .308 average with RISP this season.
Chisenhall then engaged in a nine-pitch battle with O’Day.
“Chisenhall’s had some luck against him,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. “I like Darren against anyone, but it was cat and mouse.”
Only twice in the at-bat did O’Day use his slider. The first time — on the fourth pitch — it was inside and Chisenhall fought it off during a series of six straight foul balls. For the most part, O’Day also stayed elevated and inside, with the exception of his third pitch — a low sinker that Chisenhall fouled off, too.
Some of the fouled pitches were out of the strike zone, but as Chisenhall put it: “He kept pounding me in, pounding me in, close enough [that] I couldn’t take it. I kept fouling it off.”
Finally, following a run of four straight fastballs, O’Day went back to the slider on his ninth pitch. It ventured farther outside than any of the previous eight pitches, and the offspeed offering just locked Chisenhall up. The Tribe outfielder began walking back to the dugout immediately. He knew it was strike three.
“He had a really good at-bat,” Francona said. “O’Day kept elevating, elevating, elevating fastballs. And then, he finally threw a breaking ball that froze him.”
“I know it caught enough of the plate,” Chisenhall said. “I was frustrated with myself. It was the kind of a pitch I like to hit off of guys like that. Even after throwing five or six in like that, he just got me. It’s a real tough at-bat. … Unfortunately, I couldn’t pull the trigger on that last one. It was frustrating.”
Stay tuned for more…