Aaron Civale made such a loud statement in his first outing of the season on Tuesday, setting a career-high with nine strikeouts and tossing 100 pitches, that the right-hander decided to match that performance against the Twins.
The 25-year-old gave the Indians as solid of a start as the team could’ve asked for on Sunday, holding Minnesota to three runs over six innings with nine strikeouts and no walks on 106 pitches. But the bats couldn’t back up his efforts and Cleveland dropped the series finale, 3-1, at Target Field.
“[Civale] had a little bump in the road beginning to the game,” said Sandy Alomar Jr., who managed in place of Terry Francona, “and after that, he settled down and made his pitches, kept us in the game. The bottom line is that the opportunity [was there] for us to have an opportunity to come back, and he kept us in the game, kept his composure.”
No matter what decision Civale received, there’s no ignoring the impact he has had on the Indians during his short time in the Majors. Civale, like Zach Plesac, was not invited to Major League Spring Training in 2019, but he came bursting onto the big league stage on June 22 in a spot start, tossing six scoreless frames. He then became a permanent fixture in the Tribe’s rotation last August and has permitted more than three runs just once over 12 career starts.
Civale allowed three runs in his first three frames but went on to retire the final 10 batters he faced. He had a 46.2 percent whiff rate on swings against his curveball on Tuesday and 43 percent on Sunday. He also had a 50 percent whiff rate against the changeup in his first outing and a 43 percent whiff rate in his most recent. Last year, he had whiff rates of 34.1 percent and 39.1 percent against those pitches, respectively.
“Just got a little more comfortable with the game,” Civale said. “As games go on, stuff kind of settles in a little bit. That’s just kind of how things go. Going out there and trying to compete the best I can. Today, the more the game went on, the better stuff felt and the better feeling I had for some of the hitters.”
Cleveland's rotation has been solid, pitching to a 2.57 ERA (18 earned runs in 63 innings) through the first 10 games of the year. The problem has been run support. The team scored its first run in 15 innings on an RBI single by Francisco Lindor in the fourth inning. Over the Tribe’s last 45 innings dating back to Wednesday against the White Sox, they’ve plated just four runs.
“The main thing is hopefully our pitching staff can continue pitching their game,” Alomar Jr. said, “because you can get in a situation that the pitching staff starts putting pressure on themselves because we aren't scoring runs. ... Our offense is in a funk right now. We have to have more quality at-bats. There have been times where we've hit balls right at people, and they're not going to show up. It's still early, and guys need to just have better approaches.”
Alomar Jr. said he knows hitters need confidence and can see his players are a little down at the plate. Because the season is truncated to 60 games this year, it’s even easier to press at the plate.
“It's a sprint, not a marathon like it's supposed to be,” Alomar Jr. said. “During the intrasquad games we were playing, everybody was swinging the bat good. And we were facing [Shane] Bieber, we were facing our own pitchers that are doing very good. … We just have to get back to that. Right now we're back to .500, so we have to focus and think about the way we were swinging the bats during Summer Camp, when the guys had a better approach. Now that the real games count, you just have to go put that in your mind and think positive and hope that we can get out of this.”