Clevinger comes up aces with shutout

September 14th, 2020

SAN DIEGO -- When the Padres stole the show at the Trade Deadline two weeks ago -- landing in a nine-player blockbuster -- they believed, in no uncertain terms, that they’d found their ace.

The kind of ace they'd feel comfortable handing the ball to for the franchise's first postseason game in 14 years.

Clevinger looked the part on Sunday afternoon.

In the first game of a doubleheader against the Giants at Petco Park, Clevinger went the distance with seven scoreless frames in a 6-0 Padres victory. He struck out seven and allowed just two hits.

“It was really good, from the first pitch all the way through,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler.

“I had a not-so-excellent bullpen before this,” Clevinger said. “And then the second I got on the mound, it felt like everything was there.”

With their sixth straight victory, the Padres assured themselves of a season at least .500 or better for the first time since 2010. But they have loftier goals than .500.

San Diego’s first trip to the postseason since 2006 is a near certainty at this point, and the Friars can lock up their place this week. It’s no longer a matter of “if.” It’s a matter of “when.”

When the Padres reach the postseason, it sure seems like they’re planning for Clevinger to take the ball first -- especially considering they moved Clevinger ahead of in the rotation on Sunday.

They were afforded that chance because of postponements the past two days, and there were three obvious benefits to doing so:

1. They're keeping Clevinger in a rhythm
This was Tingler's official reasoning before the game Sunday, and it makes sense. Clevinger has endured a season full of fits and starts. He's only now falling into a groove for the first time. The Padres certainly don't want to take that away from him.

2. They're lining up their playoff rotation
Publicly, the Padres aren't talking about playoff plans until they're officially playoff-bound. But that doesn't mean they can't begin to size up the postseason behind closed doors. It's one of the benefits to having a 6 1/2-game lead on the Giants for the National League West's second automatic playoff spot.

3. They're keeping Clevinger away from the Dodgers
This probably isn't the main reason Clevinger leapfrogged Lamet. But it's a nice side effect, in case the Padres meet L.A. in October. Clevinger has never faced the Dodgers in his career. Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, Max Muncy, Chris Taylor and AJ Pollock have combined for one career at-bat against him.

Clevinger, of course, is highly unorthodox on the mound -- from his flowing hair to his jittery pace to his herky-jerky delivery. He’s an uncomfortable matchup. Just ask the Giants, who faced him for the first time on Sunday.

San Francisco mustered three baserunners as Clevinger cruised through his seven-inning shutout on 99 pitches. and hit two-run singles in consecutive innings, giving the right-hander some early run support.

It was plenty. Per doubleheader rules in 2020, Clevinger needed to go only seven innings to complete the game. But he says he had more in the tank.

“I approach every inning like it’s the ninth with two outs,” Clevinger said. “That’s every batter. So I’m going to try to do that until they take the ball from me. To me, I had two more innings if we had to play ’em.”

Save those innings for October, when -- for the first time in 14 years -- the Padres are going to need them.