The Padres got their ace back on Tuesday night, but only for one inning. The question now is whether Mike Clevinger will take the ball again for the Padres this postseason.
Pitching for the first time in 13 days, Clevinger exited the Padres’ 5-1 loss to the Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Division Series alongside manager Jayce Tingler and head athletic trainer Mark Rogow after throwing two pitches in the second inning. The right elbow impingement that kept Clevinger out of San Diego’s NL Wild Card Series against St. Louis flared up in the first inning, and he couldn’t shake the feeling between innings.
Clevinger said the injury feels like “knocking on the back of my elbow, like my bones are hitting in the back of my elbow.” The right-hander became emotional during his postgame Zoom call with reporters and wouldn’t declare himself out for the rest of this series.
“I’m not giving up, and I don’t think anybody on that training staff’s going to give up, either,” Clevinger said.
Tingler said the Padres are “hopeful” that Clevinger will be able to come back, but cautioned that the pitcher’s status is “still kind of day to day with everything.”
Clevinger’s right elbow impingement limited him to just one inning between Sept. 13 and Tuesday night, but the Padres deemed him healthy enough to take the ball in their series opener against the Dodgers at Globe Life Field in Arlington. He worked a scoreless first inning, with his fastball maxing out at 96.9 mph, but his stuff was clearly not the same after that.
Clevinger said he started to feel some discomfort in his elbow after throwing a changeup to Corey Seager, the second batter in the first inning, and hitting his elbow with his knee.
“That’s when it started to become a grind,” Clevinger said. “That’s when I was just trying to get that inning over with so I could get to the tunnel and hopefully work on it and get back out there.”
While Dodgers starter Walker Buehler labored through a 33-pitch top of the second, Clevinger retreated to the dugout tunnel for quick soft-tissue work on his arm and weighted-ball throws -- “like a NASCAR pit stop, almost,” Clevinger said. He said his elbow felt a little better near the end of the inning, so he wanted to get back on the mound in the second.
“Then the same kind of sensation started coming back,” he said.
Clevinger’s first pitch to Cody Bellinger, a high fastball, clocked in at just 90.9 mph. He threw one more pitch, a 77 mph slider below the strike zone, before Tingler and Rogow departed the dugout and made their way to the mound. After a brief conversation, Clevinger left the game. Right-hander Pierce Johnson replaced Clevinger, beginning a long night for a Padres bullpen that had to do the heavy lifting in San Diego’s three-game series victory over St. Louis.
“He’s such a competitor. He competes out there, and I thought with his stuff and the way he pitches and how much he wants it, I thought he did as best as he could,” Padres catcher Austin Nola said. “I knew going into it, him not having pitched in a while, he was going to go out there and compete. I thought he really went out there and competed and didn’t give in and gave it all he had.”
Maybe Clevinger and the Padres will get the good news they’re hoping for after he is further evaluated by the club’s medical staff. But if he’s unable to pitch the rest of this series, San Diego likely will need to add another arm after using eight relievers on Tuesday night. And if the Padres replace Clevinger on their NLDS roster then come back to beat the Dodgers in this best-of-five series, he would be ineligible to pitch in the NL Championship Series.
San Diego did not include right-hander Dinelson Lamet (right biceps injury) on its NLDS roster, and Clevinger’s status is once again in question. Now, after their starters worked only six innings in three games last series, the Padres must once again patch together a pitching plan against the Dodgers’ dangerous lineup.
Tingler did not name a Game 2 starter after Game 1, saying the Padres’ staff would discuss their plans late Tuesday night. Their options include Zach Davies and Chris Paddack -- who served as starters in the Wild Card Series but didn’t pitch deep into either assignment -- or another bullpen game. Whoever it is, the Padres are hoping he’ll provide the innings they desperately need.
“I do think it’s important, and it’s certainly gonna help. If it doesn’t happen, we’ll find a way to get through the game and get through the day,” Tingler said. “But there’s no doubt it would be welcome and we could use it just to help pick up some of those arms down there.”