The way starting pitcher and Wolfson High product Mike Clevinger sees it, one of the reasons the Cleveland Indians nailed down an American League record 21st consecutive victory Wednesday is they never got caught up in making history.
It wasn’t until Clevinger rode home from a game with relief pitcher Nick Goody last weekend that the winning streak, now grabbing national attention, was even talked about among the Indians.
“The funniest part of the whole thing is not one person mentioned the streak until we got to 16 or 17,” Clevinger told the Times-Union Wednesday after he earned the record-setting victory in a 5-3 win over the Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field.
“Even to ourselves, it wasn’t a topic of conversation. Then I’m riding with Goody after we won the 17th straight and when the subject somehow came up, he says, ‘Yeah, how insane is that.’ ”
Cleveland has done all its talking on the field, outscoring opponents by a whopping margin of 139-35 during the streak. The historic ride continued as Clevinger, who has cemented a place in the Indians’ starting rotation this summer, earned his 10th victory before being lifted after allowing two unearned runs in the top of the sixth.
During Cleveland’s memorable run, which broke the AL record set by the 2002 Oakland Athletics, Clevinger (10-5, 3.21 ERA) has won all four of his starts and allowed just one earned run in 23 2/3 innings. After being promoted from Triple-A Columbus in May, uncertain of what his role might be, Clevinger is making a push to possibly be the No. 3 starter – behind ace Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco — in manager Terry Francona’s rotation for the October postseason.
“We don’t really know the playoff rotation,” said Clevinger. “I could either be starting or in the bullpen. As long as we’re playing in October, I’m going to be just as happy.
“Now if it was up to me, I’d personally take the ball to start Game 1. I just know how many good pieces we do have [on the staff]. Maybe they keep me as a long reliever.”
Clevinger, 26, a fourth-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Angels in 2011, rode the minor-league roller coaster before Cleveland first promoted him to the big leagues last year. He missed 18 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery, then got traded to the Indians for a struggling reliever.
It wasn’t until Clevinger hooked up with Indians pitching coordinator Ruben Niebla in 2015 spring training that the 6-foot-4 right-hander got on the fast track to the majors. This season, with the Indians trusting him to double his starting workload, he’s pitched shutout ball in seven of his 20 starts and increased his nine-inning strikeout ratio from 8.5 to 10.2.
“I think it boils down to being more aggressive in the zone, just attacking more with two strikes,” Clevinger said. “Last year, I’d try to throw a ball too hard when I got ahead of batters and it’d be a non-competitive pitch to let them back in the count.
“It’s been a phenomenal year for progress for me. I’m happy I stuck with it and stuck through all the highs and lows in the minor leagues.”
The next step for Clevinger, who has only thrown over 100 pitches four times this season, is to extend his starts deeper into games. He’s only pitched seven innings twice all year, both in 3-0 wins.
But he’s more concerned about helping the Indians gain redemption for blowing a 3-1 World Series lead last year to the Chicago Cubs. Clevinger made three WS appearances, all in short relief, and he feels the 2017 Indians are ready to make amends after winning 30 of their last 34 games.
“Once the dust settled from the World Series and you started to think about it, I thought, ‘Ah, damn,’ just knowing how close we were, just needing that one run to close out the Series,” Clevinger said. “It was frustrating, being that close to doing something you dreamed about since you were a kid.
“But as time went on, it’s become motivation to show we can go back [to the Series] and win this thing. There was some leeriness in the first half of the season from the media and fans, waiting for it to come together. We knew it was going to happen. We just weren’t there yet.”
The Indians are there now, hoping it’s their turn to break a 68-year streak without a World Series. For Clevinger, he’s just happy to be riding along with the hottest team in baseball.
“This streak is extremely special, but the best part is the group of guys who we’re going through this with,” said Clevinger. “It’s a fun and loose clubhouse. There’s not one guy standing up and rolling over teams. People coming off the bench and coming up from Double-A, everyone is doing their part.”
Gene.email@example.com: (904) 359-4540