Clevinger talks turkeys, recovery, Niebla hire

Q&A with the Padres' on-the-mend right-hander

November 24th, 2021

So far, 's Padres tenure hasn't quite gone the way he planned. The right-hander has pitched only four games for San Diego and missed the entire 2021 season following Tommy John surgery. But Clevinger's rocky on-field start hasn't stopped him from starring off the field.

Earlier this month, Clevinger helped assemble care packages for military service members on Veterans Day. On Monday, he volunteered at the Padres' annual turkey distribution, helping to hand out Thanksgiving meals to families in need.

At Monday's event, Clevinger took some time to speak with about a wide variety of topics, ranging from his charitable efforts to his recovery process to new pitching coach Ruben Niebla (who worked with Clevinger in Cleveland). Here is that interview: Mike, what does it mean to you to give back to the community of San Diego through events like this?

Clevinger: I'm just lucky for the invite. It's fun to get out here and see everyone giving back to the community that supports us and allows us to do what we get to do on the field. You've been in San Diego for a year and a half now, what has the community here meant to you and the way they've embraced you?

Clevinger: Well, it convinced me to move out here. I mean, I bought a house out here, so it's gone really well. They've welcomed me with open arms. Everywhere I go it seems like there's another smiling face to say hello to. Everyone here's been so respectful and really nice to talk to. What was your reaction to Ruben Niebla's hiring?

Clevinger: If San Diego didn't already feel like home, now it definitely does. It's awesome. He is, I would say, probably the most influential person in my development as a pro. We spent endless hours, one-on-one, working on my mechanics and really understanding what I'm doing on the mound, instead of just trying to execute. That benefitted me. When I left Cleveland and came over here, I really had a good base where I know what I'm doing. What is it about his style that seems to resonate with so many of his pitchers?

Clevinger: I've had a lot of pitching coaches in the past, through the Minor Leagues, where it's like: They don't want my leg-kick so high or this or that. He sees what makes you good in you, and gets you in the position to succeed out of that. He doesn't try to change that. He looks and tries to get you in the positions, biomechanically, that are going to work to execute pitches. It's never a cookie-cutter program. I saw you got on the mound here at Petco Park. What did that feel like for you, throwing off the mound, after the last year of recovery?

Clevinger: It felt like it was a game. It felt like there were people in the stands, and I was pitching in a game. [All my pitches] were moving. It felt like I was game ready. So where do you feel like you are right now?

Clevinger: I would say I'm like 80 percent-plus right now, almost back to being me. Knowing what happened with this team last season, the way you were so good for four months, then struggled down the stretch, how eager are you to get to 2022 and have your own impact on this group -- and to join that group on the field and help put 2021 behind you guys?

Clevinger: That's a big thing for all of us. We had that year of calibrating, coming together. I think this year's going to be really, really exciting, especially with whatever we do this offseason. So that's kind of my next question -- what you've already done this offseason. Bob Melvin -- what was your reaction to [Melvin being hired as Padres manager]?

Clevinger: I was shocked. I didn't think the A's would let him go. I had no idea he was even being interviewed. He was so well liked over there, I thought he was definitely going to stay. So I'm pumped for him to be here. He's got some of the best praise I've ever heard from any manager across the league. As for this pitching staff as a whole, if you guys can put it together and stay healthy, there are a lot of big time arms, and the upside is real. What do you envision as the ceiling for this group of pitchers with Ruben on board?

Clevinger: Backing up the looking-good-on-paper part. This is the year we're going to put it together. It starts with us competing against ourselves. We have the pieces in place. I know a lot of guys were dealing with some stuff, injuries and whatever else was going on. I think getting everybody healthy, getting everyone back, we're really going to push each other every fifth day.