All of the talk that young right-hander Mike Clevinger was fighting for a rotation spot this spring was nonsense. The Indians host the Royals in a getaway day contest at Progressive Field today. American League Central Free Pick: Kansas City at Cleveland.
First pitch in this Central event is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. ET. It is noteworthy that the conditions in the upper Ohio region are anything but spring like. Temperatures are expected to be near freezing as the game gets underway with a 10 mph breeze blowing out to right-center field.
Cleveland (-210, 8) is not only the reigning division champions they are overwhelming favorites, by most measures, to repeat as the AL Central champs. In the first week of the season the offensive has sputtered. The 3-5 Indians rank last in the majors with a .161 team batting average. To their defense, being shut out by Kansas City ace lefty Danny Duffy isn’t anything to be ashamed or worried about. The Tribe was blanked 1-0 on six hits Saturday in a game that saw a total of nine hits. The Royals never had an at-bat with a runner in scoring position.
Cleveland has scored just seven times in losing three of its last four. However, today is a new day, and the ability and talent of Jose Ramirez (.067), Yan Gomes (.118), Jason Kipnis (.133) and Yonder Alonso (.167) will return to form sooner than later. While the conditions are not hitter-friendly today in Cleveland there isn’t a better opportunity to break out of an offensive slump than having at-bats against veteran pitcher Jason Hammel.
Clevinger gets the ball for Cleveland and he faces a Kansas City offense that is dead last in the RBI category this season. In six games the KC lineup has a mere 14 RBI and are hitting .186 as a team. The Royals also sports a league-worst .250 on-base percentage.
Hammel (0-1, 9.00 ERA) was himself in his season debut. Inconsistent with the inability to get enough swings and misses to make him competitive at the highest level. Hammel allowed just one run in the first four innings before giving four on four hits in the fifth frame. The 35-year-old was 8-13 last season and finished with a 5.29 ERA. Hammel faced the Indians five times a year ago and was 3-2 with a 4.88 ERA in those five starts.
Clevinger (1-0, 0.00) is off a start where he surrendered four hits and two walks over 5 1/3 scoreless innings. The 27-year-old is in his prime and is in line to have a career season. Clevinger was 5-3 with a 3.79 ERA in 15 appearances (10 starts) at home and 2-0 with a 2.16 ERA against the Royals a year ago. The Indians right-hander has underlying peripherals that are dynamic. Clevinger fanned 137 in 121 2/3 innings in 2017.
The righty threw 65 of 97 pitches for strikes in his debut against the Angels. Clevinger didn’t allow a base runner past second base. Clevinger is coming off the best campaign of his career. The Tribe’s righty threw 121.2 innings with a 3.11 ERA. In addition to those 137 batters he struck out he did walk 60. That K:BB ratio will improve this season and his numbers against left-handed hitters over his last 15 starts has improved dramatically.
There are no unknowns with Clevinger. Don’t buy into the local Ohio beat writers wishy-washy talk about Clevinger’s inexperience and command issues. This is a young righty with dominating stuff, especially against right-handed hitters.
Clevinger has four quality pitches with varying release points that make his 93 mph four-seam fastball extremely difficult to pick up. His change-up has an optimal 7-to-8 mph differential from his fastball. And his curve averages just over 75 mph. His best pitch is his slider which comes to the plate in the neighborhood of 84 mph.
Depending on how much value you put in peripherals (something that I put extreme value in with pitchers from start to start) his fastball grades at as average but his slider rates off the charts good. Using Fangraphs as the grader concerning Clevinger his fastball graded at -0.8. But his slider was a ridiculous 9.3. Clevinger’s curveball (3.2) and Changeup (0.5) make him a person (pitcher) of interest.
Note that Clevinger’s +9.3 grade on the slider only rates as the 21st best slider in the MLB. However, his delivery angle and repertoire of four quality pitches makes him uber difficult to square up, put the bat on ball period, for that matter. Clevinger had a sickly impressive swing and miss percentage of 23% on his slider a year ago. That figures to improve this season. Comparing pitchers grades isn’t a reliable measure but for this articles sake it is worth mentioning that Boston lefty Chris Sale’s highest career Whiff% in a single season for his slider is 18.35 percent.
The pitching matchup strongly favors the Indians Clevinger. Both teams are struggling offensively. The conditions at Progressive are pitcher-friendly. And while -200-plus on Clevinger isn’t something I recommend, ever, playing UNDER the TOTAL in this Sunday afternoon tilt offers value.
Free Pick play is UNDER 8 runs
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Read moreAmerican League Central Free Pick: Kansas City at Cleveland