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Clevinger set to open season in Tribe's rotation

Right-hander carves up Dodgers' stars with 6 K's over 3 innings
MLB.com @alysonfooter

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- At this point, all Mike Clevinger has to do is stay healthy. His spot in the Indians' rotation is all but locked up, due partly to the effective spring he's having and partly to the fact that Danny Salazar is behind schedule with a shoulder issue.

Even if Salazar were healthy and pitching well, Clevinger would have made it difficult for manager Terry Francona to leave him out of the rotation when camp breaks at the end of the month. But as of Monday, the Opening Day starting five will be Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Clevinger and either Josh Tomlin or Ryan Merritt.

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- At this point, all Mike Clevinger has to do is stay healthy. His spot in the Indians' rotation is all but locked up, due partly to the effective spring he's having and partly to the fact that Danny Salazar is behind schedule with a shoulder issue.

Even if Salazar were healthy and pitching well, Clevinger would have made it difficult for manager Terry Francona to leave him out of the rotation when camp breaks at the end of the month. But as of Monday, the Opening Day starting five will be Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Clevinger and either Josh Tomlin or Ryan Merritt.

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"As we stand right now, he's going to be in the rotation," Francona said of Clevinger following the Tribe's 8-1 loss to the Dodgers on Monday. "Danny's not going to be ready. We're looking for 'Clev' to have a big year. He's strong, and he should be able to be that innings-eater type pitcher."

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Perhaps Clevinger's outing against the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch was more foreshadowing of what's to come. After not striking out a batter in his first two Cactus League appearances, Clevinger fanned six Dodgers in a three-inning, 62-pitch outing.

While two facts are indisputable when it comes to Spring Training -- it's still early in the process, and hitters don't quite have their timing yet -- Clevinger's outing was nonetheless impressive, seeing that he was dominant against a Dodgers lineup that featured several of their A-list, National League pennant-winning hitters.

Indians Spring Training info

"We could potentially see these guys in October," Clevinger said. "So it's good to see them now and kind of test the waters. It was fun. It was a good game."

Clevinger needed a total of six pitches to strike out Corey Seager and Justin Turner in the opening frame. He fanned Cody Bellinger and Matt Kemp to begin the second, and he struck out two more in the third, coaxing K's from Joc Pederson and Enrique Hernandez before walking No. 9 hitter Trayce Thompson.

Unlike his first two outings when he used approximately five offspeed pitches total, Monday's start featured a more balanced array of his pitches, which might explain the elevated strikeout totals.

"Like a lot of good pitchers, you work on your command of your fastball and your arm strength, and then as you get your legs under you and you start to get your delivery intact, you start breaking out your other pitches," Francona said.

Clevinger has come a long way in the past year. He didn't make the rotation last Spring Training, instead joining the starting staff as a callup in May. He has more starting experience than relief -- of his 27 outings in '17, 21 were starts. He split time between both jobs in September, which also happened to be his best month -- seven appearances, four starts, a 0.99 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. Opponents batted .191 against him.

His versatility is an asset, but Clevinger has his sights set on one role when the season starts.

"Whether it's the rotation or the bullpen, wherever the cards lie -- but I'm a starter," he said. "I want to keep that story going."

Tweet from @Indians: Locked in. 🦉🌺 #TribeSpring pic.twitter.com/nNMizp5Vsy

The Indians will give him every opportunity to do so when camp breaks. No longer on the outside trying to break in, Clevinger's performances so far have seemingly earned him the opportunity to carve out a permanent spot in the Tribe's already stacked rotation.

"There's a maturation process, and he falls into that," Francona said. "He is stronger and has some experience, and the experience factor can be really big for guys."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

Cleveland Indians, Mike Clevinger