BALTIMORE -- Mike Clevinger had gotten off to a hot start to the 2019 season, tossing 12 scoreless frames in his first two starts of the year. But an upper back strain sidelined him for over two months and now the hurler is trying to play catch up.
Clevinger matched his shortest career start, tossing 1 2/3 innings and allowing a career-high seven runs on five hits, with three walks and two strikeouts, in the Indians’ 13-0 loss to the Orioles on Friday night at Camden Yards. It was the most runs the Tribe’s pitching staff has given up in a game this season and their largest shutout deficit since June 17, 2015, against the Cubs (17-0).
“I mean, it wasn’t fun. It wasn’t easy,” Clevinger said. “Just still finding it. Coming back, I mean I’ve missed a good amount of time. I’m just trying to get back into the flow of the game right now. It just didn’t go well for me tonight.”
Although he’s seen an uptick in velocity since making his way back to the team, the results haven’t quite been there. In the second inning of his first start back on June 17 in Texas, Clevinger sprained his ankle but remained in the game for more than two additional frames, giving up five runs on three hits. While it was tough to get a read on whether the hurler’s performance was impacted by twisting his ankle -- an injury that prompted another trip to the injured list that caused him to miss one start -- he wasn’t able to bounce back Friday against the Orioles.
“I mean it happened quick,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “You know, stuff was terrific. Just looked like he was a little too amped up. Even his delivery, just rushing through everything. Ball’s coming out great, just not locating where he wanted to. Deep counts and he really paid the price.”
Clevinger averaged 96.3 mph with his fastball against the Orioles, which is just shy of the career-high he set last time out (96.5), and threw the fastest pitch of his career at 99 mph. But that impressive velocity didn’t improve the outcome. The righty gave up a two-run homer to Chance Sisco and a two-run double to Hanser Alberto in the first before the Orioles tacked on two more runs on a sacrifice fly and a Sisco RBI single in the second. Clevinger left the game with a runner on first, who scored on a two-run blast by Anthony Santander off reliever Tyler Olson.
“It’s kind of like Spring Training,” Clevinger said. “I’m throwing some pitches that are like coming out good or spinning good, but they’re not going exactly where I want it to. It’s just a matter of getting back, getting reps under me.”
“It just looked like he was a little bit rusty and didn’t have the command that I’ve seen him have before,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “He was throwing 97 [mph] and he’s got a really good breaking ball, especially to right handers, and he just didn’t have the command of either of those pitches tonight.”
Clevinger hinted that he’s still battling some pain in his ankle, although he didn’t seem too concerned.
“It’s getting there,” he said. “Slowly but surely it’s getting there. We’ll be good.”
Plutko in relief
The Indians moved Adam Plutko to the bullpen due to upcoming off days and Clevinger’s return to the rotation and it paid off. The righty saved the rest of the ‘pen by eating up 4 2/3 frames before giving up four runs in the eighth and exiting after 93 pitches (he also allowed a run in the seventh.)
“You know what, I told him when I took him out, ‘Those runs are on me,’” Francona said. “He was exhausted. I shouldn’t have let him go that far. He did a terrific job. I felt terrible about that. I didn’t want to use another pitcher. He kept getting to two strikes and he couldn’t get that last out. I felt awful about that.”
“I mean I’m still the one throwing the pitches,” Plutko said. “[The apology] definitely means a lot coming from him, but I [have] to be better. It’s still my job to get outs no matter what the situation is. So that’s kind of how I view it, trying to keep the game tighter and unfortunately didn’t do a great job in the last inning.”