CLEVELAND -- The Indians knew exactly what they were getting with Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco at the top of their starting rotation. Although they had high hopes for what Aaron Civale could bring in the No. 4 spot, the young righty solidified on Tuesday that he can
CLEVELAND -- The Indians knew exactly what they were getting with Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco at the top of their starting rotation. Although they had high hopes for what Aaron Civale could bring in the No. 4 spot, the young righty solidified on Tuesday that he can hang right alongside the veterans.
Civale allowed two runs on seven hits with one walk and a career-high nine strikeouts in the Tribe’s 4-3 victory over the White Sox in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader at Progressive Field. Francisco Lindor and Bradley Zimmer hit their first homers of the season, while Brad Hand recorded his second save.
Since the season began on Friday, each of the Indians’ starters has tossed at least six frames and permitted two or fewer runs. All but Clevinger (who recorded six strikeouts on Saturday) fanned at least nine batters.
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“I utilized a lot of offspeed today, as anyone who watched saw,” Civale said. “That was kind of the game plan going in, but just being able to be whatever pitcher I need to be for that day or that lineup. [I] can use my fastball if I need to, but can use offspeed if I need to. Just went out there and attacked and let the comfortability of the early lead and defense behind me kind of guide me through the game.”
Indians manager Terry Francona has firmly believed that as long as a team has starting pitching, it will remain in contention year after year. That’s certainly the philosophy the club has stuck to over the past few seasons, and it doesn’t appear to be dissipating any time soon. Bieber has assertively taken over the role of the team’s ace, Clevinger is a lethal No. 2 starter, Carrasco is back at full strength this season and the Tribe’s two young arms at the back end of the staff in Civale and Zach Plesac are looking to prove their rookie seasons in 2019 were more than beginner’s luck.
Civale ran into some difficult innings, escaping a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fourth and allowing just one run after putting a pair of runners into scoring position with one out in the fifth. But he didn’t allow the high-leverage situations to rattle him, settling in to maintain the lead.
“He fortunately made some pitches, as kind of every pitcher did,” Francona said. “We bent a lot but we didn't break, which in the end was good enough. But it seemed like they have baserunners in almost every inning. And they ran a lot of deep counts. Fortunately, we were able to make some pitches.”
Francona marveled at the preparation Civale put in during the coronavirus shutdown, and the 25-year-old ended Summer Camp the most stretched out of any of the other starters. He tossed a career-high 100 pitches in Tuesday’s matchup against the White Sox and his career-high nine strikeouts helped the Indians set a franchise record.
On top of the 39 K’s the starting staff has had thus far, the bullpen has added 15 more to the party. The 54 strikeouts are the most the Indians have recorded through the first four games of the season in club history. The record was previously 51, which was set in 1966.
“It’s just kinda usage,” Civale said, when asked what he believes is most improved about his stuff since 2019. "But comfortability with all of my pitches has definitely gone up and continues to go up the more I throw them. Just an experience thing. Curveball felt pretty good today. Changeup felt good. Kind of stuck with that.”
The biggest takeaway from the first handful of games this season is that, despite the three-week Summer Camp, the Indians’ rotation is in midseason form and will once again be the anchor of the team’s success. However, the addition of James Karinchak to the bullpen may add some extra depth after the starter comes out of the game. Karinchak has made just two appearances so far this year, tossing two hitless frames in Saturday’s extra-inning loss and striking out the side in the seventh on Tuesday.
Though he’s working on improving his command, Karinchak has shown promise for what kind of weapon he could become for the Tribe’s bullpen. He has made just two appearances so far this year, tossing two hitless frames in Saturday’s extra-inning loss and striking out three batters with a walk in the seventh on Tuesday.
“His stuff is tremendous,” Francona said. “When he walked the first hitter, it's a hard way to pitch, but his command was so good the other day, I'm not sure we're going to see that all the time. I think you're going to see a slightly different guy every time he pitches, just because of youth.”
Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.