Civale shows return to form after latest IL stint

June 3rd, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- If nothing else, the Guardians were at least able to see that still has potential to be an impactful starter on Friday night. It will just come down to whether he’s able to stay healthy. 

The Guardians didn’t have much to write home about. They were shut out for the seventh time this season in a 1-0 loss to the Twins at Target Field.

Aside from Will Brennan solidifying that he’s seeing the ball much better at the plate with another two-hit performance, Cleveland’s offense didn’t have many positive takeaways in yet another one-run loss. But in Civale’s first start after nearly two months on the injured list, he showed he didn’t need to shake off too much rust. 

“He looked like Civale, which is a compliment,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. 

Civale immediately ran into trouble in the first. After picking up two quick outs, he loaded the bases, but was able to catch Ryan Jeffers looking to escape the frame unscathed. From there, he mostly cruised through his next four innings, ending his evening with his first scoreless outing in Minnesota in six career starts. He had four strikeouts and worked around two walks.

“I mean, there was a lot of traffic,” Francona said. “[In the] first inning, he had bases loaded, but he elevated his fastball, he spun the ball and he cut it like he always does. I actually thought he had really good life on his fastball.” 

Civale’s cutter, sinker and four-seamer all sat more than 1 mph faster than in his first two starts of the year. But the Guardians had predetermined it was best to keep him around 85 pitches in his first outing off of the injured list, so when he finished the fifth with 83 pitches under his belt, Francona turned to his bullpen. 

“[I felt] great,” Civale said. “Obviously, any time the game’s taken away from you -- unfortunately, I’ve had a little experience with that the last couple of years -- I’m just glad to be back out there, competing again with all of those guys.”

Getting the rotation back to full strength will be a benefit for the Guardians, even though the team has been flushed with quality starters, despite the injuries it’s faced.

When Minor Leaguers like Tanner Bibee and Logan Allen transition to the Majors with no issues, it can be easy to get excited about the future. And with the time Civale has spent on the injured list over the past two years, it’s also easy to forget how impactful he’s been in the past. 

The long road of recovery started in June 2021, when he was placed on the IL with a sprained finger. He didn’t return to the roster until the start of September. In May of last season, he was sidelined with a sore left glute that kept him out until the end of June.

He was back on the injured list again the next month with a wrist sprain and didn’t return until mid-August. At the end of that month, he started dealing with right forearm inflammation and didn’t pitch again until Sept. 20.

Just when he thought all of this was in the rearview mirror, he made it just two starts into the 2023 season before he strained his left oblique. 

“The risk of injury is part of this game," Civale said. "[You just] have to stay focused and learn from each experience and gain some new body awareness and how to cope with that and figure out how to continue to progress.” 

But if you can remember the stretch he had at the start of the 2021 season before all of these ailments came piling on him, there’s a reason the Guardians are still hopeful he can be an impactful piece of this rotation. 

His ERA wasn’t jaw-dropping. It was a comfortable 3.32 through his first 15 starts. But he was impressively consistent, becoming the first pitcher to reach 10 wins in the Majors that season. He had just revamped his entire delivery over the offseason and performance was at an all-time high. But that’s when the injuries have slowed all his progression. 

The Guardians need to see what Civale can be if he can take the ball every five days. The team can hope that Friday was the start. 

“He can pitch,” Francona said. “We just got to keep him out there.”