Friday, May 5, 2017

On Deck Circle 5/5/17: Here Comes Clevinger

By Pat Luhta, @PLuhta

Corey Kluber has been placed on the 10-day disabled list. Kluber left Tuesday night’s game with back discomfort after allowing 5 runs on 7 hits in just 3 innings of work against the Detroit Tigers. After being evaluated by team doctors, his discomfort has been diagnosed as a back strain, which will require him to miss at least one start.

While no decision has been made on who will start in place of Kluber on Sunday, all signs point to Mike Clevinger being recalled from Triple A and getting the nod. Fans might remember Clevinger from last season, he was brought up towards the end of the season once Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar suffered injuries and he started a handful of games down the stretch. And if you don't remember Mike Clevinger by name, "that pitcher with that real long hair" might jog your memory. While he didn’t exactly have great outings in the majors last season, 3-3 with a 5.26 ERA and 1.49 WHIP, he has been lights out this season in Columbus. Clevinger is currently 3-1 with a 1.50 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 6 starts(30 innings) so far, he’s also struck out 32 batters while walking 10. He’s in the top 10 in all major pitching categories in Triple A and top 5 in some even, a start to the season that will earn the 26 year old a start in the MLB. Add in that Clevinger’s next scheduled start is Sunday, the same day that Kluber’s next scheduled start would’ve been, and it makes perfect sense to move him up to the majors for this start.

Do not be surprised if it’s more than one start for Clevinger though, and that’s only partially due to the possibility of Kluber missing more time. Kluber is expected back from the DL to make a start on May 13th, but manager Terry Francona has stated that he wants him to be 100% healthy before he comes back. So the Indians may extend Kluber’s stay on the DL and give Clevinger another start and basically have him as a fill until Kluber is healthy and ready to return.

The other reason to not be surprised is he may pitch well enough to become a starter in the normal rotation. With the struggles that some Indians' pitchers have had this season, this could be more of an audition rather than just filling a spot until Kluber is ready to go again. The tribe has the expectations of getting to the World Series again this season, but right now the starting pitching is a big concern for them. Carlos Carrasco has been great for them and while Kluber and Salazar haven't had very good starts, their jobs are safe. Which leaves the 4th and 5th starters, Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin, who are a huge black and blue bruise for their starting rotation that has many wondering how long either of them can remain as a starter for this team.

Trevor Bauer, while talented, has an ERA of 7.67 to go with a 1.59 WHIP, .287 opponents batting average and has already given up 6 home runs this season. In most cases, that would leave little to no job security and the plug could be pulled at any moment, but in this case he has the fortune of Josh Tomlin actually pitching worse than him. Tomlin checks in with a 8.87 ERA, 1.76 WHIP and .369 opponents batting average, which is beyond horrendous for someone who has made 5 starts this season.

So this is where Clevinger comes in, he has an absolute golden opportunity to not only hold the fort down for the Indians while Kluber spends some time on the DL, but to also take Josh Tomlin's or Trevor Bauer's spot in the rotation. Even if he doesn't light it up out there and Cleveland gets the pitcher from last season, that's still better production that what they are getting from the 4th and 5th spot in their rotation. This move here could go a long way in how the Indians approach the trade deadline and how they manage their bullpen from here on out, assuming either Tomlin or Bauer get moved there if Clevinger earns a spot.

A healthy Kluber to go with Carrasco and Salazar with Mike Clevinger pitching better from the 4th starting spot puts the tribe in a much better situation going forward than if Bauer and Tomlin were both in the starting rotation. Still might need to make some tweaks, maybe give Zach McCallister a start or two or move Ryan Merritt up from triple A to give him a chance and don't leave out the potential for a trade, but Clevinger coming in and pitching well is something all fans need to root for and not just so they can get some wins while Corey Kluber is out.

This is a good long term solution here for the Indians, and Mike Clevinger has all the opportunity in the world to come up to Cleveland, lock a job up and not be sent back down this season.

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