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Notes: Clevinger's progress; 3 sent down

@MandyBell02
March 9, 2020

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Another day, another milestone for Mike Clevinger. Prior to the Indians’ 11-7 split-squad win over the Giants at Goodyear Ballpark on Monday, Clevinger took the mound at the Tribe’s Spring Training facility in his first bullpen session since having surgery to repair his partially torn meniscus.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Another day, another milestone for Mike Clevinger.

Prior to the Indians’ 11-7 split-squad win over the Giants at Goodyear Ballpark on Monday, Clevinger took the mound at the Tribe’s Spring Training facility in his first bullpen session since having surgery to repair his partially torn meniscus.

“Good, real good,” Clevinger said after he threw. “Just got to sync back up, but everything feels strong. Nothing feels sore, nothing like that.”

Clevinger underwent the procedure on Feb. 14 and has since made it a goal to return on the quicker end of his six-to-eight-week timetable. Two weeks after surgery, he began a throwing program on flat ground, advanced to simulating his motion (without a ball) on the mound to get his knee comfortable with landing downhill and is already back throwing bullpens just 24 days later.

“I’m actually not surprised just because I see him bouncing around and I know how much he wants it,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Clevinger’s recovery speed. “I mean, I probably should be surprised, but I’m not.”

The right-hander threw approximately 25 pitches and appeared to not have lost any velocity in his time off. He’ll come into the Indians’ complex on the team’s off-day Tuesday to go through his recovery routine and is scheduled for another bullpen session on Wednesday. After that, he said he’ll need either one or two live batting-practice sessions before he can -- possibly -- get into a spring game.

“I put in all that work to where I felt, like every year, trying to come in in midseason form and try to carry that throughout the year,” Clevinger said. “And I kind of felt like I had that and then I just felt like I had to regroup and start back at ground zero, but that’s part of the process. I’m just happy to be healthy and the ball’s coming out and spinning good.”

First round of cuts

The Indians had their first round of cuts on Monday afternoon, sending down starters Sam Hentges, Triston McKenzie and Jean Carlos Mejía.

Hentges, the Tribe’s No. 22 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, made three appearances for the Indians, allowing six runs (four earned) in 2 2/3 frames, but the impact he made on his big league coaching staff goes far beyond his numbers.

“This kid is so well thought of by us,” Francona said. “He’s going to be that kid that you look at his Minor League numbers and they’re not eye-popping and then you’re going to see him in the Major Leagues winning and you’re going to be like, ‘Whoa,’ because he’s got it. He’s going to be a good one.”

McKenzie, the Indians’ No. 9 prospect, didn’t get into game action in his time in big league camp because the club didn’t want to rush him back after missing the entire 2019 season with upper back and pectoral strains. He threw a few live batting-practice sessions and will pick up with games in Minor League camp.

“It was kind of cool because he was getting frustrated because he wanted to pitch and we were kind of glad,” Francona said. “So he’ll throw an inning on Wednesday in a camp game over there and get him started. And we think we can get him out to about 85 pitches before they break camp, which will be good.”

Mejía, Cleveland's No. 26 prospect, made four appearances, including one start, in Cactus League play, allowing three runs in five innings while giving up four hits with seven strikeouts.

“He just needs to go pitch,” Francona said. “We’re starting to get to that point where after the split-squad, as the starters start to go farther, it starts to get a little harder [to mix other pitchers in] and we have some bullpen guys that we definitely need to see.”

Naquin’s final step

Tyler Naquin’s meeting with the medical staff was pushed back from Sunday to Monday to plan out his upcoming schedule, but they already know that the outfielder cannot be officially cleared to return to full baseball activities without consulting his doctor. Naquin underwent surgery to repair his ACL in Houston in September. Francona said he expects Naquin to head back to Texas to get his final clearance at the beginning of April.

“He’s doing terrific,” Francona said. “Regardless of what schedule is in place, he’s doing terrific.”

Up next

The Indians will enjoy their first and only off-day of the spring on Tuesday before returning to game action on Wednesday. Shane Bieber, who was informed after his last outing that he’d be the team’s Opening Day starter on March 26, is expected to get the nod against the Royals, with the action live on Gameday Audio. First pitch is slated for 4:05 p.m. ET at Goodyear Ballpark.

Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.