Mike Clevinger breached a level of trust that cannot be overstated. His teammates (including one recovering from Leukemia), coaching staff, and the families of those around him trusted him to follow safety protocols and not expose them all to a deadly virus. Even worse than that, he lied about it and watched as his teammate who broke the same trust — Zach Plesac — was outed and sent home from Chicago in a rental car.
Even watching outbreaks occur on the Marlins and Cardinals did not deter the two of them from leaving the team hotel Chicago night and not returning until early the next morning. They didn’t just put themselves and those around them in jeopardy, they put all of baseball at risk as another breakout could mean the end of the season.
Their teammates, understandably, have been very vocal in their condemnation of their actions. Adam Plutko did not mince words at the podium following the team’s 7-1 loss to the Cubs last night.
They hurt us bad. They lied to us. They sat here in front of you guys and publicly said things that they didn’t follow through on. It’s gonna be up to them. It really is. I’ll let them sit here and tell you how they’re gonna earn their trust back. I don’t need to put words in their mouths. The term that I continue to hear, and excuse my language, is “grown-ass man.” So those grown-ass men can sit here and tell you guys what happened and tell you guys what they’re gonna do to fix it. I don’t need to do that for them.
Of course, Francisco Lindor also spoke up about it as eloquently and leader-like as ever.
We have to sit and look ourselves in the mirror. And it’s not about the person we see in the mirror. It’s who’s behind you. The other people. It’s not about that one person. It’s about everybody around you: the family members, the coach staff, (Carlos) Carrasco, all the players on teams that are high-risk. We’re in a time right now with COVID, with racism, with everything — this is a time to be selfless. This is when we have to sit back and understand this is not about one person specifically. It’s about everybody. It’s about your neighbor and your neighbor’s neighbor. It’s not just about you specifically.
At best, this is an all-around disappointing moment for a couple Cleveland Indians pitchers. Assuming the two of them didn’t accidentally come in contact with COVID-19 and expose their entire team, this will just be another bizarre speed bump in a bizarre year.
The show on the field must go on, but the deception by Clevinger, in particular, seems almost unforgivable. If it doesn’t come with a lengthy suspension from the Indians, one has to wonder how he will fit back into the clubhouse. And if he is suspended, traded, or otherwise off the team (which isn’t out of the question, considering there were murmurs that it might be time to deal him anyway), the question becomes: Can the Indians survive without him?
Yes. Yes they can.
As it is, before these shenanigans, Clevinger was the Indians’ third, maybe fourth, best starting pitcher. If Aaron Civale can keep pitching the way he has, Clevinger might be a No. 5 starter on a full season of this rotation. That comes with the caveat that everyone else has looked incredible on the mound, and Clevinger was working back from a knee injury that was messing with his delivery through his first few starts. He was also working on a new pitch that was starting to show some promise.
But the fact of the matter is, he wasn’t great in two of his three starts.
The Indians can probably find it in themselves to forgive Zach Plesac — if only because he got caught, apologized immediately, and quarantined away from his teammates immediately. The statements that came out of the clubhouse were much more “our younger brother screwed up, we’ll give him a wicked noogie but we’ll deal with it and we love him anyway” than the subtle fury at what Clevinger did.
If for any reason whatsoever Plesac comes back before Clevinger, there are plenty of internal options to fill in for Clevinger this year and beyond. We saw two of them just last night in the former of Adam Plutko and Logan Allen.
Plutko probably has the inside track just because he’s out of options and was already intended to be the fifth starter before Plesac took off like a rocket in spring training. He’s not exactly what you call a statistical marvel — nothing he has in his arsenal is overwhelming, he doesn’t strike anybody out, and he gives up a lot of fly balls. He’s basically Josh Tomlin lite, which is a perfectly serviceable fifth starter. With the other four in the rotation — Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac, and Carlos Carrasco — he would easily be relegated to the bullpen in the playoffs or crunch time down the stretch. You can hide his faults if you have to.
Twenty-three-year-old Logan Allen can’t be forgotten as a rotation option, either. He had four rough starts with the Padres before coming over to the Indians at the trade deadline, but he features a unique “vulcan” changeup as his best pitch and a fastball that can reach 96 on a good day. Last night against the Cubs he was left in to clean up the last three innings of garbage time in a blowout. He threw 63 pitches and was still touching 94 mph with his final few tosses of the night.
The Indians also have another lefty option in Scott Moss, who did nothing but throw excellence in six starts for the Akron RubberDucks and Columbus Clippers last season. After coming over from the Reds at the trade deadline, he pitched 28.2 innings and struck out 36 batters while walking 13. Control is an issue for Moss, but if he has wrangled in his walk issues while in Eastlake and regained a feel for his slider he’s a viable option somewhere down the line.
Jefry Rodriguez might be the most boring option, but he did fill in last season when the Indians needed him, and he was part of what kept the rotation afloat when it was plagued with injuries early in the year. He, like Plutko, doesn’t feature overwhelming stuff and he lacks the strike-throwing ability of Papa Plut, though he does induce a lot of groundballs which will play well with the stellar infield of the Indians.
And of course, we cannot forget the specter of Triston McKenzie presumably lurking on a baseball diamond somewhere. He hasn’t thrown a pitch in a professional game since 2018, but the lanky righty probably would have made his debut in 2019 if he wasn’t injured all year. It’s possible the Indians would want to wait and see him pitch in Triple-A more before they thrust him into a starting rotation, but only they have seen him pitch so far in 2020. Maybe he’s looked great and his fastball touches 95 with a sky-high spin rate, with his outstanding curveball, and changeup to keep left-handed batters honest. When he’s on and healthy, McKenzie looks like a potential ace, but the looming question mark is what he actually looks like now, and if he can even stay healthy to pitch. If Clevinger is out of the picture, maybe that pushes the Indians to give him a shot?
All of this is negated if the Indians do decide that Clevinger is worth keeping around, or no trade partners can be found. They are not going to dump him for nothing, and they probably will not suspend him and hurt their own playoff odds as they enter the second half of the year. But fear of a major production drop-off should not prevent them from doing whatever they feel is right in this situation.