Clevinger feeling less pressure this spring

March 6th, 2019

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Mike Clevinger has pitched in three seasons for the Indians, but in one very welcome way, this Spring Training is a little different for him.

Instead of having to pitch his way into the rotation, the 28-year-old right-hander is instead guaranteed a spot in it. When he makes his first spring start Wednesday against the Dodgers, he'll need to concentrate not so much on impressing his skipper as much as simply building innings, and channeling his boundless energy in a positive direction as he prepares for the regular season.

"This is my first Spring Training in my career like this, so it's kind of -- I almost feel like it's too relaxed for me, but I understand why," he said. "It's a long, long season and I'm trying to build more innings than the year before. It's the same goal every year."

Clevinger had a breakout season in '18, establishing career bests in every pitching category while eclipsing 200 strikeouts and reaching 200 innings pitched.

He was among the best pitchers in the American League in the second half last season, posting a 2.31 ERA in 13 starts, while holding opponents to a .189 average, tops in the American League.

This spring, he's been on the same schedule as veteran teammates Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, who also have yet to make their Cactus League debuts. The trio has been pitching in simulated games, working up to 50 pitches.

Clevinger recently reached that threshold, clearing the way for him to pitch in a live game, which he'll do against the Dodgers.

"He's preparing for a long year," manager Terry Francona said. "It doesn't mean you work any less hard. It's just you can do it a little different."

Starring role?

The 30th anniversary of the release of the classic baseball movie "Major League" is coming up on April 7, and because it’s about the Cleveland Indians, and because he's the current team's manager, Francona can probably expect to be asked about this cult favorite a few times this season.

Like most of us, Francona has watched the movie. He loves the movie. But did you know that he's actually in the movie?

"You have to look really closely," he said. "But once you know, you can tell."

Francona, who played for the Tribe in 1988, made the cut in the movie's final scene. Roger Dorn, played by Corbin Bernsen, gets a base hit, and after the inning's over, they cut to the first baseman coming in and getting the ball from the dugout. That's Francona, who also wore No. 24, like Dorn.

"It's that quick," he said.

The filming took place during an actual game on July 5, a doubleheader against Oakland. Francona, who played in 62 games with the Tribe that year, had just been called up the week before.

"Major League" is widely considered one of the best baseball comedies ever filmed, and certain parts of it are surely relatable to players from that era. But Francona, whose career spanned most of the ‘80s, hesitated to say it's an actual spot-on depiction of what life was really like for a Major Leaguer during that decade.

(Though who, at some point, hasn't dreamed of driving a bullpen cart through the streets of Cleveland to win over the woman he loves?)

"I loved [the movie], but I don't know about true to life," Francona said. "I thought it was a great movie. But they didn't make us put a motor boat in the whirlpool, or stuff like that."

Plutko vs. the Sox

Like most involved in baseball this time of year, Adam Plutko doesn't put a lot of stock into Spring Training results, either way.

But after throwing 3 2/3 scoreless innings in his start against the White Sox in Tuesday's 11-0 win, the right-hander did say he was happy to have improved upon his prior outing that resulted in allowing five runs in one inning against the Mariners.

Plutko walked one and struck out three.

"I went back and looked at the film from last outing and didn't like some of my mechanics," he said. "I wasn't using my legs very well. I kind of focused on that in between the last start and this start. I really started hammering down a changeup and a cutter. The changeup was effective today and I was really happy with that."