ANAHEIM -- In a span of three pitches, Mike Clevinger showed Angels fans what could have been Monday night. During a first-inning battle with Michael Trout, the Indians starter fired a trio of fastballs, the last in the sequence whizzing by the superstar's bat for a strikeout.
Clevinger's audience at Angel Stadium let out a collective groan, and there would be plenty more to follow throughout the Tribe's 6-0 victory over the Angels. Edwin Encarnacion highlighted Cleveland's offense with an improbable inside-the-park home run and Clevinger succeeded in his mission to once again pitch well against the team that traded him away.
"It's good fun. I came up there," Clevinger said. "I know a lot of people over there. I always want to leave a good impression, no matter where I am."
Over the weekend, Clevinger flashed a grin when it was mentioned he would be facing the Angels in his 2018 debut. There is no deep-seeded grudge -- the Angels' front office has undergone changes since Clevinger was dealt to Cleveland as a Minor Leaguer in 2014 -- but the pitcher said facing his old organization is a "personal battle" that he enjoys.
Clevinger won the battle Monday night, logging 5 1/3 shutout innings with four hits allowed and five strikeouts against a pair of walks.
When Clevinger was sent to the Indians in August of '14 in exchange for reliever Vinnie Pestano, the pitcher was coming off Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and had a delivery in need of an overhaul. Clevinger adjusted his mechanics, learned to channel his high level of intensity and is now poised to log a lot of innings as the No. 4 starter in the Indians' deep and talented rotation.
"He's a young, improving pitcher and we're enjoying watching it," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "When he commands the strike zone and works ahead in the count, it's like night and day. When he first came up, he'd kind of pick it a little bit, he'd fall behind and he kind of paid the price for it."
Encarnacion put the Indians on the board with his unlikely trip around the bases in the second inning. The designated hitter drove an 0-1 pitch from Angels starter JC Ramirez to deep left, where the ball eluded left fielder Justin Upton and bounced off the yellow portion of the padded wall. Upton hesitated before retrieving the ball and his throw sailed beyond the cutoff man.
By that point, it was too late anyway. Encarnacion hustled around the bases as fast as his legs would carry him, which was 18.86 seconds from home to home, per Statcast™. Upon reaching the dugout, Encarnacion was greeted by high-fives along with laughter from his Tribe teammates.
"I'm still tired," Encarnacion joked after the win. "It was a lot of running, but I like it. It's good. I saw when the ball hit the wall. I knew I had a good chance to make it."
Two more home runs -- the traditional variety -- helped the Indians build a 5-0 lead by the fourth inning, chasing Ramirez after 4 2/3 frames. In the fourth, Yonder Alonso led off with a no-doubter into the right-field seats for his second homer of the season and Tyler Naquin later followed suit with his first shot of the year, a two-run homer off Ramirez.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Zimmer manufactures a run: One inning after Encarnacion's fluke home run, the Indians used another defensive breakdown from the Angels to extend their lead to 2-0. After reaching on an infield single, Bradley Zimmer stole second and advanced to third on a passed ball by Martin Maldonado, the Angels' Gold Glove Award-winning catcher. Maldonado corralled the ball and tried to throw to third to nab Zimmer, but his throw went wide of Luis Valbuena, allowing Zimmer to score.
Naquin spreads game open: Following a 1-for-8 showing in the Tribe's season-opening series in Seattle, Naquin helped put Monday's game away for the Indians. With two outs in the fourth, he ripped a 1-0 fastball from Ramirez out to right with an exit velocity of 108.2 mph, per Statcast™. For Naquin, it marked his first homer for Cleveland since Aug. 19, 2016, which happens to be the previous inside-the-park home run by an Indians batter.
"Clev's always going to give you 100 mph, no matter what. That's just the way Clev's wired, whether you're playing horse or whatever it is. He's going to give you everything he's got. It's special to watch, because you know exactly what you signed up for whenever you put him out there. It's pretty cool to watch him do it against these guys as well, especially the home opener." -- Naquin
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Encarnacion's home run was the second inside-the-parker of his career. The other came on Aug. 31, 2007, when the slugger was with the Reds. At 35 years old, Encarnacion became the oldest player to have an inside-the-park home run since Derek Jeter accomplished the feat at 36 years of age on July 22, 2010, with the Yankees. Encarnacion is the oldest Cleveland player to have that type of homer since 1928 (Charlie Jamieson).
The Angels have now dropped 12 straight and 16 of their last 17 games to the Indians, matching their longest losing streak in club history against one team. They also lost 12 consecutive games to Baltimore from 1979-80 and to Kansas City in 1975.
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who finished 2-for-4, extended his hitting streak to five games after singling in the second inning and then dodged a pickoff attempt by Indians catcher Yan Gomes with a feet-first slide back into first base during an at-bat by Jefry Marte. The Indians challenged the call, but a replay review determined the ruling stands.
Right-hander Josh Tomlin is set to make his 2018 debut for the Indians on Tuesday, when the Angels host the Tribe in a 10:07 p.m. ET tilt at Angel Stadium. Tomlin finished last season 6-0 with a 3.11 ERA in his final 10 appearances.
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