After spending over two months on the injured list with a significant back strain, Mike Clevinger made his long-anticipated return to action against the Texas Rangers on Monday night. The Cleveland Indians star looked like his usual self to start the contest but ran into plenty of trouble as the night went on.
The 28-year-old righty retired the first seven batters he faced, striking out three of them. He was also highly efficient for that stretch, needing just 26 pitches to get through those 2.1 innings of perfect baseball. In that third inning, Clevinger allowed a pair of doubles, including a run-scoring two-bagger from Shin-Soo Choo with two outs. During the inning, he appeared to injure his ankle but he stayed in the game, though it’s unclear what exactly happened.
The fourth inning is where things began to fall apart. He retired the first two batters he faced but needed seventeen pitches to do so before issuing a four-pitch walk to Willie Calhoun. On the very next pitch, Danny Santana took him for a ride to center field, knocking a two-run blast and giving Texas a 3-0 lead. Clevinger escaped the inning after 29 pitches.
Francisco Lindor put Cleveland on the board with a solo shot in the fifth frame, but Clevinger’s struggles continued and actually got worse. Following the theme of the night, the flame-throwing right-hander sat down the first two batters with a pair of strikeouts before getting himself into more two-out trouble. He issued back-to-back walks to Choo and Delino DeShields, ending his outing after 91 pitches. Tyler Clippard replaced him and coughed up a two-run double to Elvis Andrus, giving Clevinger five earned runs for the game. Despite the strong start, his final stat line looked like this: 4.2 IP, 3 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 7 K while taking the loss with a final score of 7-2.
In Clevinger’s first two starts this season he had allowed just two hits and no runs while striking out 22 batters over 12 innings. Obviously, Monday’s outing showed clear signs of rust for the 6-foot-4 ace. It wasn’t all bad though; his velocity was terrific, as his fastball was routinely hitting 96-97 miles per hour, even while facing his last couple batters.
While Clevinger took the loss in what ended up being a pretty ugly return from injury, there were still a few positives to take from it. His slider was dominant as usual, his fastball velocity looks fantastic, and his strikeout stuff was there, even if it wasn’t consistent. He should get an easier matchup when he faces the Detroit Tigers at home this weekend as Cleveland looks to keep fighting for an AL Wild Card spot.