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Clevinger wants to 'get back to being me'

Right-hander's mechanics out of whack as Tribe's starter streak ends
@MandyBell02
August 1, 2020

Cleveland's starting rotation got off to a historic start through its first seven outings, but manager Terry Francona was always quick to mention that a hiccup along the way would be inevitable. Mike Clevinger was the first to hit a bump in the road. The Tribe had turned in seven

Cleveland's starting rotation got off to a historic start through its first seven outings, but manager Terry Francona was always quick to mention that a hiccup along the way would be inevitable. Mike Clevinger was the first to hit a bump in the road.

The Tribe had turned in seven consecutive starts of at least six innings while giving up two or fewer runs to begin the year, which was tied for the longest such streak to open a season in Major League history. Clevinger broke the remarkable run just one-third of an inning into the Indians' 4-1 loss to the Twins on Friday at Target Field. He ended his night after four innings, allowing four runs on six hits with five walks and five strikeouts.

Box score | Twins, Tribe decide to continue series

“I think he's still trying to feel his body, and by that probably his legs,” Francona said. “Just some pitches that weren't really where he was trying to locate. I give him credit, he battled. He could have left that game after two and he would have been getting our bullpen in a little trouble. But he stayed out there for four so nobody had to overextend, which is good.”

What went wrong?

In his last outing on Saturday against the Royals, Clevinger gave up back-to-back homers (his first career multi-homer inning) in the first, but he settled in to throw seven frames with six strikeouts, allowing just those two solo homers. Against the Twins, he struggled with the long ball once again in the first, surrendering a leadoff home run to Max Kepler, and became the first Indians starter to give up more than two runs this season on a two-run double by Eddie Rosario four batters later.

In the second, Clevinger gave up a solo homer to Alex Avila, as he allowed multiple jacks in back-to-back games for the first time since May 26 and 31, 2017. After watching a little bit of tape, Clevinger has realized that his mechanics are out of whack.

“I feel like I’m pitching with someone else’s arsenal out there right now,” Clevinger said. “My release point’s changed a lot, my mechanics have changed, my leg lift is causing me to leak forward, I’m getting on my toes and [I go] on my heel.”

What has caused the issue?
Clevinger sustained a partial tear in the meniscus in his left knee on the second day of Spring Training in February. He immediately began rehabbing and was hoping to be ready by the team’s originally scheduled Opening Day on March 26.

With a few extra months off, he was able to completely heal and get back to full strength by the start of Summer Camp. But in his intrasquad outings, Clevinger realized that he wasn’t completely trusting his knee when he’d lock out his front leg. Though he thought he found the answer, he’s realizing that may have caused some of the problems.

“My hypothesis now until we get back to work tomorrow is I think I was getting out of my mechanics protecting my knee,” Clevinger said. “Once I got to the point of trusting it, I already kind of messed a couple things up. My release point’s different, my heels aren’t sinking. All these little things I think attributed [to it] because I was protecting my knee in the beginning.”

How to fix the problem
Despite his lack of command early, Clevinger was able to grind through four innings to help make the workload a little more manageable on his bullpen, which tossed four scoreless frames. However, the pitching staff wasn’t granted much run support from the offense. Through eight games, the Tribe is collectively hitting .222.

“Even though I felt like I had knives at a gun fight, I was competing with my knives,” Clevinger said. “I went back from trying to find that feeling of being me again to, 'Let’s compete, let’s try to punch them back because they just punched me.' That kind of turned it around for like a minute there.”

Moving forward, Clevinger will have to find the best way to balance tweaking his mechanics while still focusing on preparing for each upcoming start.

“I think the biggest difficulty, especially with me, is I like to get after it,” Clevinger said. “I like to go. I want to see change. You can’t do that right now. So you have to really balance that workload and that rehab with it along with the schedule and who we’re facing.

“You know, now I just got to get back to being me, and I’m pretty good at doing that.”

Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.