MINNEAPOLIS -- With just two big league starts under his belt, Aaron Civale was asked to take the mound in the series finale against baseball’s most powerful lineup in front of a sellout crowd, as a piece of first place in the American League Central was within striking distance.
What seemed like a daunting task became a Sunday stroll for the 24-year-old right-hander, who tossed six stellar frames to lead his Tribe to a 7-3 victory over the Twins on Sunday afternoon at Target Field.
“I’m just out here trying to put the team in a good spot to win,” Civale said. “These are the games you work hard for. All the tough days that you go through throughout a career, these are what you come out to play for. You play for the team and we’re in a good spot now.”
The victory allowed the Indians to leave Minneapolis with a share of first place, tying the Twins at 71-47.
“You’ve got to give credit to Civale to come in and out-pitch their ace [Jose Berrios],” second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “If you asked them, they were probably counting this one as a win for them on the projections. I thought he pitched outstanding the whole time.”
The Indians could not have asked for more from their rookie starter in his first three big league outings. Civale first got the call on June 22 to make a spot start in place of an injured Mike Clevinger. Civale then had to rejoin the Tribe last week after Danny Salazar went down with a right groin strain. For the first time, he stayed around for a second turn in the rotation, allowing one run -- a sacrifice fly -- on four hits with five strikeouts in six frames against the Twins.
“I think he pitched extremely mature ... beyond his years,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He just throws strikes, he can elevate that fastball. I think he’s got some life through the zone on his fastball that plays up a little bit more than it shows on the gun, and he can spin the ball and he throws a changeup.”
Civale was rolling enough to go another inning if the right-hander hadn’t just been on the injured list last month in Triple-A for shoulder tightness. Francona decided to end Civale's afternoon after having thrown 95 pitches.
“We’re trying to keep him around 90ish just because of that shoulder,” Francona said. “That was why we took him out. Not because he wasn’t getting people out.”
Francona always mentions how difficult it is to project whether a Minor Leaguer will succeed at the big league level solely based on his statistics. In 13 Minor League starts this season, Civale went 7-1 with a 2.35 ERA, and those numbers have certainly translated over to the big stage. In 18 combined innings, he’s given up two runs (1.00 ERA) and nine hits with four walks and 18 strikeouts.
“Just the work that I put in every day and seeing everyone else put in the work each day is contagious,” Civale said. “It’s a good atmosphere around here, and I just want to do what I can to contribute to that."
One of Civale’s biggest strengths in the Tribe’s farm system has been his command. In 381 1/3 career Minor League innings, dating back to 2016, he averaged just 1.4 walks per nine frames. Although he gave up three free passes in his debut, those early jitters disappeared in his second trip to the Majors, walking one batter in his last outing and none Sunday.
“He pounds the zone,” catcher Kevin Plawecki said. “He’s got good movement on his ball. He keeps the hitters off balance. He just competes, pounds the strike zone and goes after hitters. That’s what you want.”