Baseball players will turn to just about anything if it’ll put themselves on the right side of baseball karma, give them good luck or, if anything, bring some positivity into an often negative sport.
Jason Giambi famously had a golden thong as a slump buster. Mike Napoli currently has a mini Jobu figure in his locker. Players keep other mementos in their lockers for luck. Sometimes a helmet can’t he washed if a hitter is in the zone.
For minor-league starting pitcher Mike Clevinger, it’s a large dream catcher. And it’s currently protecting his jersey in the Indians’ clubhouse at their spring facility in Goodyear, Ariz.
Clevinger has Native American roots and last summer got a dream-catcher tattoo on his forearm. His girlfriend then gave him the dream catcher, and he has hung it over his jersey in the clubhouse.
“It’s good luck, good spirits, good vibes,” Clevinger said. “Just to bring good vibes to the locker room, good juju on the uniform. … I’ve always been big into good vibes and spirits. It’s more of an uplifting thing and part of my heritage.”
If the tattoo has as much power as the dream catcher, it certainly seemed to have worked wonders in 2015. Clevinger effectively put himself on the map last season, going 9-8 with a 2.73 ERA and 145 strikeouts in 158 innings pitched for Double-A Akron before being promoted to Triple-A Columbus and throwing 15 1/3 scoreless innings. Clevinger finished with the third-most strikeouts, second-lowest WHIP and fourth-lowest average against at the Double-A level across baseball.
After the season he was named the Indian’s organizational Player of the Year and is now entering 2016 as the No. 7 prospect in the system, per Baseball America.
Clevinger has had a long road to where he is today. He didn’t log many innings between 2013-14 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery while in the Los Angeles Angels’ system. He was then sent to Cleveland in exchange for relief pitcher Vinnie Pestano in August of 2014.
The Indians at times had to reign him back in while he pushed himself to return as soon as possible. He didn’t expect to start last season at Double-A and with a year of healthy pitching under his belt, finally felt comfortable again and put together his best year as a pro.
“Just to kind of prove myself,” Clevinger what stood out about his season. “I got my feet back under me from [Tommy John Surgery]. That was the final nail in the casket to Tommy John.”
Clevinger spent part of the winter throwing with staff ace Corey Kluber in Florida, hoping to pick up a few things from a former Cy Young award winner.
“The big thing with him I noticed was consistency on a day-to-day basis,” Clevinger said. “Like how [Indians manager Terry Francona was saying], they had to bring me back from [going] over 100 percent and going over and over. … [Kluber] knows what gets him ready and that’s what I’m figuring out this spring.”
Now, armed with a dream catcher, Clevinger hopes to make an impact in Triple-A, enough to eventually add his name to a solid group of 8-9 starting pitchers always competing for one of the rotation spots in Cleveland.
“It’s exciting to see what you could be a part of and it also shows the challenge that’s in front of you,” Clevinger said. “It’s not just the guys in the spotlight, there’s guys in front of you, behind you, all around you that have talent.”
The Indians are still working through some visa issues with free agent third baseman Juan Uribe.
Uribe, from the Dominican Republic, and the team came to an agreement on a one-year deal worth $4 million plus incentives last week, but until Uribe can get to Cleveland and pass a physical, the signing remains unofficial.
Uribe, who turns 37 in March, will take over as the primary third baseman. Giovanny Urshela could be headed to Triple-A to receive regular at-bats at third base, particularly with Jose Ramirez expected to serve a utility role similar to that of Mike Aviles from a year ago.
Indians center fielder Abraham Almonte has been dealing with back spasms, per Francona, and didn’t take part in the position payers endurance test on Tuesday.
Almonte is taking it slow early in camp but isn’t expected to be limited for long.
“He’s getting better, it just seemed like [holding him out of the test] was probably the right thing to do,” Francona said. “He’s been in the training room the last few days but he’s working his way out.”
Almonte is one of the many outfielders vying for a spot on the Opening Day roster.
In the OF
Utility man Zach Walters will be dropping that title for a while and just go by “outfielder.”
When the Indians held their 1-on-1 meetings with each player, Walters suggested perhaps he could play center field and wanted to focus on the outfield. So, at least in the early going in camp, Walters will remain as a full-time outfielder to see how he responds to it.
“We are going to start him out as an outfielder for that competition,” Francona said. “It was, ‘What do you think puts you in the best position where we can see the best of you?’ Because sometimes I’m not sure we know that. And what’s what he said.”