CLEVELAND -- This is the assignment Mike Clevinger craved. After spending the past two Octobers working out of the Indians' postseason bullpen, the right-hander earned the trust of manager Terry Francona and has emerged as one of the American League's most durable starting pitchers.Clevinger will take the ball for the
CLEVELAND -- This is the assignment Mike Clevinger craved. After spending the past two Octobers working out of the Indians' postseason bullpen, the right-hander earned the trust of manager Terry Francona and has emerged as one of the American League's most durable starting pitchers.
Clevinger will take the ball for the Tribe in a win-or-go-home Game 3 of the AL Division Series today against the Astros, who won the first two tilts at Minute Maid Park. Clevinger spent those games monitoring how Houston attacked starters Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, and the righty is looking forward to trying to halt the Astros' momentum in front of a sold-out crowd at Progressive Field.
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"Our backs are against the wall," Clevinger said during Sunday's workout. "We know that this could be our last game if we don't show up. So if anything, everyone is going to leave what they have out there, and that's going to be good to see at home."
Clevinger finished this season 13-8 with a 3.02 ERA in 200 innings, piling up 207 strikeouts against 67 walks and gaining steam as the starts piled up. The righty's fastball velocity ticked up as the summer wore on, climbing to 95 mph on average in September. In the second half, Clevinger turned in a tidy 2.31 ERA with 89 strikeouts and a .189 opponents' average in 78 innings.
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While watching Houston's offense in the first two games of the ALDS, Clevinger said he was impressed on the Astros' ability to pounce on mistakes. Specifically, Houston hit .250 (7-for-28) with a .464 slugging percentage with two strikes in the first two games combined. For perspective, all MLB batters combined to hit .173 with a .274 slugging with two strikes overall this season.
"There's a few things," said Clevinger, when asked what he picked up from Games 1 and 2. "But something that's kind of eye-opening is how often they capitalize on mistake pitches. You don't see a lineup, top to bottom, really be able to do that every time you make a mistake.
"So I think really honing in on two-strike pitches and really paying attention to how you're setting them up is going to be a big key."
• With left-hander Dallas Keuchel starting for the Astros in Game 3, Francona plans to make a couple changes to his lineup. Right fielder Brandon Guyer (120 wRC-plus vs. lefty pitching) is expected to be in the lineup, along with right-handed-hitting Yandy Diaz.
• Francona noted that Diaz will likely serve as the designated hitter, with Edwin Encarnacion handling first base. That means first baseman Yonder Alonso will be on the bench. Alonso posted a 64 wRC-plus against left-handed pitching this year, and he is 0-for-6 so far in this ALDS.
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• Francona noted that it will be "all hands on deck" for the most part in Game 3 today. Trevor Bauer will again be available out of the bullpen. The manager said Kluber offered to move to the bullpen, but that is not going to happen. If there is a Game 4 on Tuesday, Bauer or Shane Bieber would start.
"I'd rather be up 2-0 than down 2-0, but it's still the first one to get to 3. And I'd rather have a chance than no chance. I mean, I understand that the odds start to go not in your favor. But I've been on both sides of this and come back and had people come back on us. So rather than spend a ton of time thinking about all that, we need to figure out a way to beat them, because the first two games, they've really kind of had their way with us. We need to change that." -- Francona
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 Facebook.