Clevinger continues to roll for surging Tribe

Indians earn 8th win in past 9, remain 3 games behind division-leading Twins

July 23rd, 2019

TORONTO – It’s no coincidence that the Indians’ July surge has run parallel to 's return to his old self, which continued on Monday night at Rogers Centre against the Blue Jays.

Clevinger threw seven innings of three-run ball with seven strikeouts in the series-opening 7-3 win over Toronto, and while Cleveland could add to its lineup to support a stellar pitching staff ahead of the July 31 Trade Deadline, it’s difficult to understate the value that players like Clevinger can provide from within as they look to build on their 13-3 month.

Tribe manager Terry Francona knows this. He sees, in Clevinger, a pitcher who is less of a “bull in a China shop” at this point in his career, with excellent lower-body strength and tremendous stuff. Put that all together with Clevinger already coming off three excellent starts to open July after dealing with an ankle sprain, and the Indians (58-41) have to love their chances every fifth day as they work to separate themselves in the American League Wild Card race and chase down the Twins (61-38) in the AL Central.

“Sometimes, you have to put in the rearview mirror statistics when a guy misses time," Francona said just prior to Monday’s game. "As long as he finds his rhythm, you’ve got a top-of-the-rotation guy the rest of the way out.”

Clevinger certainly looked to be in rhythm, and he was just a couple of feet away from an even better-looking line before he surrendered a two-run homer to Blue Jays right fielder Billy McKinney in the bottom of the fifth inning. McKinney’s home run was well hit, but it was also a matter of hitting the ball to the perfect part of the ballpark. Though it was measured at 344 feet by Statcast, the ball just narrowly cleared the wall on a line above the 328-foot sign in the right-field corner.

Even though Clevinger does a better job of keeping his emotions in check now, it’s still an undeniable part of his mound presence -- one that he calls a “mixed bag of candy” -- as it can work for or against him depending on the inning.

“The defense really took over for me, between the double plays and Roberto [Perez] behind the plate keeping the balls in front of him, and everyone else in the clubhouse kind of dealing with my emotional roller coaster I go through every start,” Clevinger said with a laugh after the win.

That defense Clevinger referenced included an incredible play by second baseman Jason Kipnis to end the game, as he ranged back to make a leaping play on a blooper, which helped Francona avoid bringing in Brad Hand on a day he preferred not to. It also came on a special day for Kipnis, the eighth anniversary of his MLB debut on July 22, 2011.

Cleveland’s offense made plenty of hard contact against Toronto starter Ryan Borucki, who was making his first start of the season with some evident rust. The Indians took four walks off Borucki and six total, with all nine starters -- plus pinch-hitter Greg Allen -- reaching base at least once.

Breakout rookie Oscar Mercado tripled and later hit his eighth home run of the season, a 394-foot shot to left-center field to pad the lead in the eighth inning.