Mike Clevinger searching for his own arsenal in battle with knee: Walk-Off Thoughts

Ryan Lewis
rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com
Cleveland Indians' pitcher Mike Clevinger watches the flight of a ball off the bat of Minnesota Twins' Eddie Rosario in the first inning of a baseball game Friday, July 31, 2020, in Minneapolis.

Here are five Walk-Off Thoughts after the Indians lost 4-1 to the Minnesota Twins on Friday night, dropping their season record to 5-3.

1. Mike Clevinger took the mound Friday night feeling like he at least brought guns to a gun fight, but they weren't actually his own guns. Clevinger gave up a leadoff home run to Max Kepler — which was launched 444 feet — and later a two-run double to Eddie Rosario. In one inning, his bid to become the eighth consecutive Indians starter to throw at least six innings while giving up two or fewer runs to begin the season was lost.

2. It was almost instantly evident that something was off. Clevinger first tried to find what was missing. His pitches didn't feel like his own. His command was shaky. It wasn't until after the game that many of the issues became clearer.

"Yeah, I mean we, after the game, finally looked at some video. My release point’s changed a lot, my mechanics have changed, my leg lift is causing me to leak forward, I’m getting on toes and I go on my heel," Clevinger said on a Zoom call. "I feel like I’m pitching with someone else’s arsenal out there right now. And it’s truly just competing, just competing to keep us in the game. ... But I think we’re seeing stuff that’s kind of blatant right now and I think fixing those will be a huge thing for me."

3. Clevinger was trying to find himself again, doing it on the fly and attempting it against one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball. He was trying to feel his way through issues with each pitch. Then Alex Avila belted a home run to begin the second inning, and that was that. Clevinger could no longer try to correct the on-going issues. He had to simply eat up a few innings with sheer competitiveness, throwing pitches he knew were off, in order to save the bullpen from a long night. Clevinger then felt like he had knives at a gun fight. But, hey, at least they'd be his own knives.

"I was just searching and it just got to the point where I quit searching and it was just about competing," Clevinger said. "Even though I felt like I had knives at a gun fight, I was competing with my knives. I went back from trying to find that feeling of being me again to, 'Let’s compete. Let’s try to punch them back because they just punched me.' That kind of turned it around for like a minute there."

"I think he's still trying to feel his body, and by that probably his legs," Indians manager Terry Francona said on a Zoom call. "Just some pitches that weren't really where he was trying to locate. I give him credit, he battled. He could have left that game after two and he would have been getting our bullpen in a little trouble, but he stayed out there for four so nobody had to overextend, which is good."

4. Clevinger's mechanics are off from the first pitch, and from his assessment, the list of items to correct is lengthy. Clevinger talked during summer camp about having to trust his knee after undergoing surgery in February. It's his plant leg, and it took time to know it would hold within his delivery. He found that trust, but now thinks he might have derailed his mechanics along the way, compensating to protect it. Now, the search begins for Clevinger to click his delivery back into place to where it was prior to the surgery.

"I think now it’s just getting back to my mechanics. I think maybe – my hypothesis now until we get back to work tomorrow is I think I was getting out of my mechanics protecting my knee," Clevinger said. "Once I got to the point of trusting it, I already kind of messed a couple things up. My release point’s different, my heels aren’t sinking, all these little things I think [contributed] because I was protecting my knee in the beginning. You know, now I just got to get back to being me and I’m pretty good at doing that."

5. It wasn't just the issues, either. The Twins are the wrong lineup against which to try to find the answers while you're taking the test.

"Yeah, they’re stacked top to bottom and then they went ahead and stacked all lefties against me besides [Nelson] Cruz and [Josh] Donaldson," Clevinger said. "Then they switched Donaldson, I think he left the game early, and then they had all lefties. So, they played their cards right against me tonight. It’s tough being out there knowing that it’s not you because you’re letting your team down. But they got my back. We’ll be back at it in five days."

Ryan Lewis can be reached at rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com. Read more about the Indians at www.beaconjournal.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.