CLEVELAND -- In his last outing, Aaron Civale didn’t have the curveball he had on Friday night. What changed? He had a front-row seat to Adam Wainwright’s seven-inning, curveball-heavy gem on Wednesday evening in St. Louis.
Civale studied Wainwright from afar and took bits and pieces from that outing into the Indians’ 7-0 victory over the Mariners on Friday night at Progressive Field. Those small tweaks helped lead him to a stellar one-hit, eight-inning performance that earned him his ninth win, tying him for the MLB lead.
“That’s just what this game is all about is learning and adapting and adjusting every day, every year,” Civale said, of watching Wainwright. “So, that’s something I took in today and it went pretty well. That might not always be the case, but I had a pretty good feel for a lot of things tonight.”
Civale gave himself an early birthday present, tossing eight scoreless frames with a career-high 11 strikeouts, one walk and one hit batter just hours before he completed his 26th trip around the sun. His notes on Wainwright led to him throwing more curveballs in the series opener against Seattle (25) than he has all season, and he tied his record for inducing the most swings against it (15) in any start of his career.
“Oh, my goodness. That was so much fun to watch,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “You know, first inning he clips a guy and he has a walk but then pitches out of it and from that point on, he kind of looked like Wainwright the other night. He doesn’t have that many years under his belt, but he acts like it, he pitches like it.”
Civale gave up a leadoff single to J.P. Crawford in the first inning and ran into a two-out, bases-loaded jam after hitting a batter and issuing a free pass. But after that, he retired the next 22 consecutive batters to cruise through the eighth, ending his night on a groundout on his 101st pitch.
“You’re locked in,” Civale said of the groove he got into. “You’re seeing everything. Your feel – you want an arm-side cutter, it’s going there. The misses are just less and you’re confident with everything that you’re doing.”
On May 14, Civale faced the Mariners on the road and gave up five runs in 6 2/3 innings. This time, he made sure the same mistakes were not made.
“We got dominated by a pretty good starting pitcher, a guy that we'd seen a month or so ago when they were in Seattle,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “I thought we did a nice job that night. Tonight, he really relied on the cutter and a ton of curveballs, and we did not handle it well at all.”
“I think I might have not pitched, per se, my game,” Civale said of his May 14 start. “Maybe catered too much to what they were doing. ... I think I really stuck to my strengths today and just pitched with that.”
After 101 pitches, Francona had a decision to make: Do they send Civale back out to the rubber to finish it off or end his night after his strong eight frames? Friday marked the start of a stretch in which Cleveland will play 30 games in 31 days. The Indians entered the night ranked 22nd in the Majors in innings pitched from their starters after owning first place in at least the American League (if not all 30 clubs) the last four seasons. Because the rotation hasn’t been as solid this year, Francona knew that it was time to pull Civale.
“I told him, I said, ‘You can be mad at me,’” Francona said. “Under normal circumstances, I probably wouldn’t even bat an eyelash. But I couldn’t let him go back out with three-fifths of our rotation not in the rotation, I can’t do that. He’s a smart kid. He understands.”
This rigorous schedule will be a defining stretch for the Indians. Will they be sellers at the Trade Deadline? Will they be in the thick of a division race that prompts them to be buyers? A four-hit game from Amed Rosario, a three-RBI night from Bobby Bradley (including a homer) and an outstanding performance from Civale set the perfect tone for this difficult run. But for the team to continue this success, Civale will need to continue what he’s done all season: give the team depth and make the necessary adjustments.
“He’s an easy kid to root for, I’ll tell you that right now,” Francona said. “But he’s pitching his fanny off and it's fun to watch.”