Indians improve to 20-17
Part I: The Debut
If you click the link to the box score above, you'll find that Mike Clevinger allowed four runs on five hits in 5.1 innings. He ends his first day as a major-leaguer with a 6.75 ERA. He allowed two extra-base hits, both of which drove in runs. He also struck out five batters, walked one, and threw 91 pitches. Based on the results, it was a decent debut, particularly because he was efficient with his pitches, staying largely ahead of hitters.
I also want to give a more three-dimensional picture of what happened, one that may change your opinion on how Clevinger really did. After all, a debut is seen as a beginning, and this debut could be the beginning of a long career, so although we're as fans very interested in the game itself, we're also interested in the games to come, including games that Clevinger will appear in. To that end, I was rather impressed with his performance. I came into the game expecting a short outing, filled with long at-bats, walks, and major jams. In his seven AAA starts this season, Clevinger had pitched into the sixth inning just two times, often approaching the 100-pitch plateau by the end of the fifth or sooner. But although Clevinger did exit tonight's game at about the same time he usually exited a Clippers game, it was not because he was up against a pitch count limit, or even because he had a couple stressful innings. He was pulled because he gave up three straight hits, and was taken out of the game because Terry Francona didn't want him to pitch to Jay Bruce again.
Up until the sixth inning Clevinger was in control of things. His first major-league pitch was swatted into left field for a single, but he retired the next three batters. He issued the only walk of his night to Jay Bruce to lead off the second, but again he pitched around that as well. He retired the side in order in the third. He gave up the first run of his career on a line-drive with two outs in the fourth, a ball that's likely caught at Progressive Field (and might have caught here had Marlon Byrd timed his jump better). He retired the side in order in the fifth. He had thrown just 75 pitches through five innings, was on track to finish the sixth, then would be pinch-hit for in the top of the seventh. Of course that didn't happen, but up until then it looked like a very successful debut for Clevinger.
And even with what did happen, I think it still was a successful beginning. The Indians did choose a favorable opportunity for Clevinger, moving the rotation around so that he'd start against the very impatient Reds rather than the league-leading Red Sox offense, but even so his stuff and control were both evident. He threw a mid-90s fastball that, until the 1-1 pitch to Joey Votto in the sixth, was put in very good spots. He threw an overhead curve was at least 20 mph slower than his fastball, and a slider that had a sharp horizontal break, and was in the low 80s. He also threw a changeup (I think) that was faster than his slider or curve, usually in the upper 80s. Carlos Carrasco might be back in 7-10 days if everything goes well with his rehab, so Clevinger should get another couple starts before he heads back to Columbus.
Part II: The Battle of the Bullpens
And by battle, I mean a battle to determine who would give up the most runs, not the least. The Tribe bullpen struck first, with Kyle Crockett missing badly on a breaking pitch to Jay Bruce, who dumped it into left field. That ended Crockett's night, and led to Zach McAllister entering the game to preserve a 4-3 lead. Eugenio Suarez, who earlier in the game had been charged with an error that led to three runs (the spin on the ball made it dart several feet from left to right, causing Suarez to whiff on it) redeemed himself by lining a three-run homer just over the right field wall, capping a five-run inning for the Reds.
The Indians got a run back when Francisco Lindor drove in a run on a groundout, but the Tribe bullpen gave it right back when Jay Bruce once again went deep in the eighth. All told, the Tribe bullpen allowed three runs of its own plus one inherited run to score between the sixth and eighth innings. That gave the Reds a 7-5 lead heading into the ninth.
But then the Reds bullpen, which had been so awful in Cleveland, allowed the Indians back into the game. Carlos Santana led off the ninth, but he wasn't the batter who would work a walk to bring the tying run to the plate; he'd swing at the 3-1 pitch and would later ground out. Surprisingly enough, it was Lonnie Chisenhall who worked a walk against left-handed reliever Tony Cingrani after seeing 10 pitches. That brought Rajai Davis to the plate. Davis had already hit a home run earlier in the evening, and in the ninth again picked on a mistake pitch off a left-handed pitcher and drove it into the left field seats. The game was tied 7-7, and after the Reds went quietly in the bottom of the ninth, headed into extra innings.
A week ago, yours truly recapped a game that headed into extra innings after the Indians tied the contest in the ninth. That game ultimately went 16 innings and ended on a Houston Astros home run. Although the setup this week was the same (Tribe ties game in ninth on the road, rapidly running out of relievers in the process), the ending was happily different. The Indians took the lead when Francisco Lindor lined a Keyvius Sampson (one of two relievers the Reds recalled before the game thanks to the bludgeoning the bullpen took on Monday and Tuesday) pitch just over the center field wall. Both Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen had already pitched, so it was up to Dan Otero to close out the game. He retired both Adam Duvall and Zack Cozart on popups, the latter being fine play made by Jason Kipnis while running towards the right field line. Then Billy Hamilton singled, and Joey Votto walked, bringing to the plate longtime Tribe nemesis (and LGFT) Brandon Phillips. But this time, Phillips hit a harmless fly to right field to end the contest.
Thanks to Houston's 5-3 victory over the White Sox, the Indians now sit 2.5 games behind Chicago. Not that being 2.5 rather than 3.5 games behind anyone really matters at this time of the year, but it is a nice little bonus after surviving tonight.