CLEVELAND -- It’s been a long, slow start for the Guardians' starting rotation. But if the last week has been a preview of what’s to come, the results will be worth the wait.
The Guardians are back to leaning heavily on their starting pitching, as Aaron Civale became the latest starter to dazzle on the rubber, permitting one run in six frames with a season-high 10 strikeouts in Cleveland’s 4-1 victory over Detroit in the matinee of Monday’s doubleheader at Progressive Field. And in order to keep this rotation fresh and on schedule, Cleveland’s No. 20 prospect Xzavion Curry successfully filled his role as a spot starter despite his team’s 7-5 loss in the nightcap.
“As long as us as starters keep the game within reason, then there’s really no hesitation or doubt or there’s no thoughts about not winning a game,” Civale said. “And that’s a really comforting and confident thing to have throughout a clubhouse. And it’s just been like that for a while.”
Regardless of how many pitches he’s thrown, Civale has been more effective now than he has prior to his wrist injury.
“I thought he spun the ball really, really well,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “After that first inning, he pitched really well.”
Shane Bieber and Cal Quantrill are finding a rhythm. Zach Plesac broke a rough stretch of being unable to complete six innings last time out. Triston McKenzie has been solid all season. And now, after a brief stint on the injured list, Civale is suddenly showing glimpses of the pitcher he was prior to getting injured in the first half of the 2021 regular season.
Civale recorded his second career double-digit strikeout game, permitting just one run on an RBI groundout in the first inning against the Tigers. After that, he went into cruise control, allowing just one walk and one single before he was pulled after the sixth. Although he only had thrown 82 pitches, the Guardians are still working Civale’s pitch count up slowly after he made just one rehab appearance following his nearly four-week stint on the injured list.
Civale’s curveball was elite against the Tigers, inducing career highs in whiffs (11) and called strikes (12). His previous high on called strikes on the curve was six. He’s now made two starts since returning from the IL, and both have come against Detroit -- a team against which he’s found consistent success. Civale has gone 7-0 with a 2.06 ERA (15 earned runs, 65 2/3 innings) in 10 starts versus the Tigers.
“The game calling that [catcher Austin Hedges] has,” Civale said, “and just the comfortability back there to throw the pitches that I throw and knowing the guys behind me are ready to make a play at any time, that makes pitching the way I do, which is typically to contact, that makes it more comforting to go out there and do my thing. That’s a burden off of my shoulders knowing that the guys behind me are going to take care of it and the guy in front of me is prepping as good as anyone can.”
Curry didn’t have the same level of effectiveness in the second matchup of the twin bill, but there was no expectation for him to do so. The 24-year-old righty became the 14th Guardians player to make his debut this season and was reassured by Francona before the game got underway that this start would not make or break his career. He fought through five innings, gave up three runs and gave everyone a glimpse of what he could become with a little more fine-tuning.
“We just told him, 'Man, there’s a lot to like,'” Francona said. “We knew today isn’t what he’s gonna look like a year from now, two years from now, maybe 10, 12 years from now, but he competed really well.”
The most important part of Curry’s role was eating up five innings to try to keep the bullpen as fresh as possible moving forward after Cleveland’s 10th doubleheader of the season. His presence helped keep a rotation that’s heating up on schedule.
The Guardians have now won eight of their last 10 games, thanks largely to stellar starting pitching. And now that the club is looking to create some separation in the division and expand what is currently a narrow 2-game lead over the Twins, these results couldn’t be coming at a better time.
“No matter at what point of the game it is,” Civale said, “no matter what the score is, I know there’s always a chance for us to win, and that’s a comforting feeling.”