Here's what a healthy Civale can do for the Guardians

July 8th, 2023

CLEVELAND -- Prior to the Guardians’ 3-0 win over the Royals on Friday night, manager Terry Francona sat on the dais in the Progressive Field media room, reminiscing on just how impressive of a pitcher was two years ago.

“I think people tend to forget, this kid was on a path -- at least I thought -- to make the All-Star team,” Francona said.

Civale reached 10 wins faster than anyone else in 2021. He was consistent. He boasted a brand-new delivery after spending the offseason throwing a football to unlearn how to throw a baseball and start from scratch. He had put in the work to be an even better version of himself. He started to see the results, but then it all got taken from him.

A sprained middle finger, a bruised left glute, a right wrist sprain, right forearm inflammation and a left oblique strain caused him to spend nearly more time on the sidelines than on the field from July 2021 until June 2023. With the ups and downs he had to go through to get back to consistently being able to take the ball every five days again, it was easy to forget the path that he was heading down two short years ago. Now, he’s reminding everyone of what he’s capable of as long as he’s healthy.

“We saw him pitch really well,” Francona said. “The last couple times out, he’s commanding so well. His ball’s got life. He spins it. It’s fun to watch.”

And Friday was the best he’s been.

Against the Royals, Civale gave up just two hits in seven scoreless frames with no walks and nine strikeouts. He threw 100 pitches and 70 of them were strikes. He pounded the strike zone, watched the velocity tick up on all five of his offerings and fanned more batters than he has all season long.

“He’s the second guy we’ve seen recently who has thrown 70% strikes,” Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. “If you take, you’re behind, and if you swing, he’s got enough movement on the ball [to make you miss]. He was locating his breaking ball too. When you throw your pitches in the zone early it makes it tough.”

Civale has never been overpowering, but he’s effective. This year, he hasn’t ranked favorably in whiffs or strikeouts, but he’s in the 90th percentile when it comes to missing barrels. His fastball velocity is near the bottom of the leaderboard, but his fastball and curveball spin rank in the 93rd and 96th percentiles, respectively.

“It’s pretty incredible,” Guardians designated hitter Josh Bell said. “He can pretty much do what he wants. He definitely paints the strike zone really well. If you give him that run support and he can just do what he does and miss barrels, [get] strikeouts [and] what did he have, two hits? That’s lights out.”

Since returning from the IL at the beginning of June, Civale has posted a 2.48 ERA, giving up 11 earned runs in 40 innings. In each of his last four outings, he’s gone at least six innings, making it into the seventh twice. And with so much focus going toward Cleveland’s young starters, who will soon be dealing with innings counts as they all experience a big league workload for the first time, the Guardians will need to have reliable veterans to eat up some frames. As Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill try to get healthy and the possibility of Shane Bieber getting moved at the Trade Deadline, that responsibility falls squarely on Civale’s shoulders.

When Civale was still battling his health hiccups, this could’ve been concerning. If he can stay healthy, he’s proving he’s ready for the challenge.

“I’m just trying to make sure I’m focused for each and every pitch,” Civale said, “giving it my best effort and making sure it’s conviction with each pitch.”

Cleveland’s win handed the club a .500 record for the first time since entering play on April 29. Two more wins this weekend will give the Guardians the same record they had at the All-Star break in 2022. We all witnessed what this group is capable of as the second half of the season got underway last year.

The club is hoping the same run is in store in ‘23. There are so many uncertainties it’ll need to figure out in the coming weeks, but if Civale is able to remain in this form, that’s one less worry the Guardians will need to have.

“I think there’s a part of him that missed the game,” Francona said. “I think he’s got that back where he’s enjoying doing what he’s doing.”