CLEVELAND -- Indians starter Aaron Civale has checked off nearly every box he’s needed to in order to get back into game action after spending nearly three months on the injured list with a finger sprain. Now, the last thing he has to master is rediscovering his consistency.
Civale was having a stellar season prior to his injury, leading the Majors in wins and innings pitched at the time. Since he was activated off the 60-day IL on Sept. 7, he’s shown flashes of the hurler he was at the beginning of 2021. But after each step forward, he’s taken two steps back, and that trend continued during Thursday’s 7-2 loss to the White Sox in the matinee of a split doubleheader at Progressive Field.
“[Civale] missed up in the zone with his fastball,” Indians acting manager DeMarlo Hale said. “You think about that six-run second inning, the home runs were on fastballs. I think one was on the cutter -- [Tim] Anderson -- and all of them were up. It’s kind of interesting because he pitched down in the zone a little bit more in New York. I thought the balls were up today and they were flying out of here.”
The 26-year-old right-hander got off to a hot start in his first outing back on Sept. 7, allowing just three hits in 4 2/3 innings on a tighter pitch count since he was fresh off the IL. Civale's next start against the Brewers resulted in seven runs (five earned) in three frames before he rebounded for six scoreless innings against the Yankees. But on Thursday, he fell backward once again, becoming the first Indians hurler to give up four homers in an outing since Adam Plutko did so on May 23, 2019, against Tampa Bay.
“I think once you go through it and your body starts to feel a little different or make some adjustments, this is part of [coming off the IL],” Hale said. “I truly believe [that]. That’s why you talk about minimizing pitches when they come back, because the load is much different at the Major League level than the Minor Leagues. ... The talent up here is different, too, and the hitters. We’re very aware of that.”
Civale turned in the shortest outing of his career, lasting just 1 2/3 frames before Hale turned to his bullpen. In that short time, Civale was charged with seven earned runs on seven hits with two walks and three strikeouts. Although Hale believed it to be due to Civale staying up in the zone, Civale countered that speculation with the fact that he’s always up in the zone. The numbers back that up, as his four-seamer has averaged a height of 3.3 feet above the ground -- the highest in the Majors among those who have thrown at least 300 of those pitches.
“I don’t think it’s ever as simple as a one-word answer,” Civale said. “Throwing up in the zone is something I do. I think that’s something I do all year. I think I’m [in the] top five pitchers in baseball in average pitch height. So to say throwing up in the zone versus throwing down is the answer, I wouldn’t say that’s it. I think it just came down to execution of pitches and location at the end of the day.”
Instead, Civale was left to watch the White Sox celebrate clinching the American League Central on Cleveland's field.
“It definitely stings,” Civale said. “This one loss is one loss. It’s no different than the other ones throughout the year. ... It’s never fun to lose, but when the other team is clinching a spot in the playoffs, it definitely stings that much more.”