CLEVELAND -- With headphones on and music serving as his distraction, Mike Clevinger was pacing back and forth in the Indians' clubhouse on Saturday night. Rain was falling on Progressive Field, threatening to wash away the pitcher's chance to show the Angels what they gave away.Make no mistake, Clevinger was
CLEVELAND -- With headphones on and music serving as his distraction, Mike Clevinger was pacing back and forth in the Indians' clubhouse on Saturday night. Rain was falling on Progressive Field, threatening to wash away the pitcher's chance to show the Angels what they gave away.
Make no mistake, Clevinger was looking forward to this one. The young right-hander is intense by nature -- he paced like a bull before his first live batting practice workout in Spring Training -- but his blood was pumping a little more in the hours leading up to Cleveland's 5-1 victory over Los Angeles.
"There was some anxiety building," Clevinger said. "But I would say positive anxiety."
After two years in the Indians' organization, Clevinger was forced to wait a little more than two hours beyond the scheduled first pitch to face the Angels. It was worth the wait. The rookie right-hander carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, holding L.A. to an 0-for-17 showing before Andrelton Simmons chopped a pitch into the hole, off shortstop Francisco Lindor's glove and into left field for a single.
After Simmons took his place at first base, the Progressive Field crowd rose to its feet and offered an ovation in appreciation of Clevinger's effort. Indians manager Terry Francona then took the ball from the young righty, but the bullpen finished the job and Clevinger picked up his first Major League win.
The fact that his first one came against Los Angeles was special.
"Storybook-esque," said Clevinger, who kept the lineup card and a few game-used baseballs as mementos. "It was everything I could imagine and more. It's hard to describe right now."
While discussing his upcoming start on Thursday, the 25-year-old Clevinger said he felt a "sense of betrayal" when the Angels traded him to the Indians on Aug. 7, 2014, for reliever Vinnie Pestano. Clevinger was picked by L.A. in the fourth round of the 2011 MLB Draft and was in the early stages of his return from Tommy John surgery at the time the trade went down.
The trade came as a shock to Clevinger, who was with Class A Advanced Inland Empire at the time.
"It was, like, Twilight Zone-esque. It didn't take," he said. "Then, once I started packing my bag, I was like, '[Dang]. I'm leaving here.'"
Once in the Indians' system, Clevinger had the benefit of a new set of eyes, and the Tribe's Minor League coaching staff went to work with the pitcher on overhauling his delivery. The right-hander said the changes were from the ground up, but the results have been impressive. Clevinger won the Bob Feller Award as the Indians' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2015 with Double-A Akron and had gone 11-1 with a 3.00 ERA for Triple-A Columbus this year.
"Looking in hindsight, I needed a new environment," Clevinger said. "I needed a change. I had that whole year and a half of off-time after Tommy John, and it was more of a mental battle than physical. I was struggling hard coming back from it. I think that was like a new life, a new breath to be over here. I got new mechanics to look at and had new people to work with. It was like a breath of fresh air."
This season, Clevinger has developed into the first man up for the Indians' rotation. At the moment, the right-hander is filling in for Danny Salazar, who is due back from the disabled list this coming week. If the outing against the Angels was Clevinger's last for Cleveland for a while, he made the most of it.
"That was fun," Francona said. "He came out and his stuff -- kind of like a lot of times -- his stuff was pretty electric early. He had some walks, there was some traffic, but he really competed. I thought he pitched through a tight strike zone early that looked like it might rattle him a little bit, but he kind of gained his composure and got him out."
Clevinger struck out three and walked four, including a pair of free passes issued to begin the second inning, when the Angels pieced together their lone run. Simmons drew a leadoff walk and later scored from third on a groundout off the bat of Johnny Giavotella. Beyond that, the Angels could not break through against their former farmhand.
Indians catcher Chris Gimenez recognized early on how excited the young pitcher was for the start.
"Before the game started," Gimenez said, "when we were in the bullpen, I said, 'Listen man, trust me, I understand you want to beat the guys that kind of gave you away, so to speak. Let's hopefully do that, but let's do it within ourselves.'"
Clevinger did precisely that.
"I don't think there's a sweeter way I could've gotten the first win," he said. "This was definitely it."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.