In an announcement that in a just world should surprise absolutely no one, the Indians announced Monday afternoon that right-hander Mike Clevinger would start the regular season in the rotation, per MLB.com’s Alyson Footer.
From Tribe camp: With Salazar behind schedule and Mike Clevinger having a great spring, the rotation appears set with Clevinger nabbing the final spot. Francona: "We're looking for Clev to have a big year. He's strong, and he should be able to be that innings-eater type pitcher."— Alyson Footer (@alysonfooter) March 5, 2018
This news comes on the heels of a three-inning, six-strikeout, hitless performance against the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch, Clevinger’s second appearance of the spring.
Danny Salazar continues to struggle through various arm ailments, meaning the chase for the rotation had two spots for three pitchers. Clevinger is working on an encore to a 2017 that saw him work 121 major league innings, striking out 137 with a 3.11 ERA, and earning 2.2 WAR. If early indications out of Arizona hold any truth, he is well-prepared to succeed in his quest. He’s now K’d six in six innings worked, allowing one run and walking one. The walks have been his issue his whole career including a 12.0 percent rate last year, but his ability to avoid hits (6.8 per nine) and strike people out (27. 3 percent) have formed to an unconventionally effective path for Clevinger. The ideal would be reducing the walks and holding the hits firm, which would lead to Corey Kluber mk. 2. If not, that’s okay too.
The choice now comes to Josh Tomlin or Ryan Merritt for the final slot in the rotation, a choice that likely favors Tomlin due to his track record of consistency (even if it is consistent mediocrity) and his relationship with manager Terry Francona. A shame for Merritt, who will is out of options and will have to go through waivers if the Indians don’t keep him in the bullpen. With two lefty arms there already and Merritt’s lack of velocity, It’s nearly assured he finds himself in Columbus with a different organization come April.
For Clevinger, though, this is just another statement on the ability of the Indians to spin gold from straw when it comes to pitching. If he holds true to his successful 2017 and gets 175 or so Innings Clevinger will be mentioned in the same breath as Carlos Carrasco and shewhat less than Corey Kluber, affirming the Indians’ rotation lethality. This of course assumes the simple loss of Mickey Callaway won’t suddenly bring an entire team’s development program crashing down. Which would be crazy to think anyway.