In his second rehab start in as many weeks, Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger reminded the RubberDucks crowd just how dominant he can be — plus he flashed some leather along the way.
After a 1-2-3 first inning against the Hartford Yard Goats on Tuesday night at Canal Park, Clevinger hit a snag in the second inning. One of the Yard Goats reached on an error, and then another reached on an infield single. A steal later, and Clevinger had a runner on third and only one out.
But Clevinger snagged a ball that bounced hard at the mound and quickly tagged out the baserunner trying to score. After helping the runner to his feet, Clevinger beamed. The next batter flied out to left field.
“That was a good test of my physicality there,” Clevinger, who finished with 5 1/3 scoreless innings, said. “That was cool to kind of get back into that baseball chess match.”
The RubberDucks (32-31) went on to win 2-0, but the big story was Clevinger. It’s only been a few months, but his last start in Cleveland might seem like ages ago to Indians fans. He started the season hot with 12 scoreless innings and 22 strikeouts in two outings before straining his upper back and landing on the 60-day injured list.
The initial prognosis was relatively grim. Indians manager Terry Francona told reporters in early April that it’d be six to eight weeks before he even picked up a baseball, but by the end of the month he had already rejoined the team. He shagged fly balls before the Indians’ road series against the Houston Astros that month and started lightly throwing again shortly after that.
“Every time you get back on the bump, [your body] gets more in sync, your body gets moving in the same way it used to,” Clevinger said.
Clevinger’s first rehab appearance didn’t go quite so seamlessly. He pitched two innings last week in Columbus and allowed four runs on three hits. Although he struck out four batters, he also allowed a two-run home run and walked two batters.
But he had more command Tuesday without sacrificing his trademark velocity, consistently clocking in the mid-90s and topping out at 99 mph.
“I was dealing with some sickness. I had a little bit of a cold coming back from Arizona, so I had a bunch of stuff going through my head,” Clevinger said. “Like I said, each time you get on the mound, the more things kind of sync up.”
Tuesday was Clevinger’s first time back in Akron since 2015, his first full season with the Indians organization. After being acquired from the Los Angeles Angels for reliever Vinnie Pestano, Clevinger went 9-8 with a 2.73 ERA. That was good enough to get him promoted to Triple-A Columbus to start the next season, and by year’s end Clevinger was pitching in the World Series against the Chicago Cubs.
But even today, Clevinger remains one of the Ducks' noteworthy alumni, and his photo adorns a poster plastered on the side of a building just outside Canal Park. He received a standing ovation as he walked off the mound just a batter into the sixth inning Tuesday. Clevinger was supposed to pitch five innings or up to 75 pitches, but after having thrown just 63 he trotted back out to finish off one more batter.
He then tossed 10 more pitches in the cage after he left the game.
“This is crazy nostalgic here, especially like where I came from when I first got here,” said Clevinger, who allowed three hits and no walks with five strikeouts. “I was throwing 90 and was a throwaway from the Angels. They literally just gave me away. It really puts things in perspective — the work put in, the long bus rides, the same things these guys are grinding for and [success they] hopefully achieve, too.”
Clevinger may be heading back to Cleveland next. He said the plan was to check in Wednesday and officially learn what his next step is, but he believed the organization intends to have him rejoin the team.
“I’m going back trying to do my job,” Clevinger said. “They’re doing just fine. It seems like we have the pieces, we just haven’t had them put together at the same time. That’s baseball, and the pendulum will swing eventually."