The month of March is finally upon us, and we find ourselves deep in the heart of spring training. I’m sure you’ll all agree it’s wonderful to have baseball back, even if the results don’t actually matter and we only glimpse our beloved players a few innings at a time. This doesn’t seem to bother fans at the games though, as they soak in the sun while the rest of us begin our painstakingly-slow thawing process, emerging from the depths of winter. Thank goodness for our MLB TV subscriptions.
Having recently introduced you to some of the fine folks on the 2020 Cleveland Indians, it’s time to pay attention to the here and now. Just how are manager Terry Francona and his men faring in their temporary Goodyear, Arizona home?
Not good. Not good at all.
For starters, the Tribe have a bunch of important guys roughed up, and they don’t come more important than Mike Clevinger, the would-be ace of the rotation. Clevinger spent Valentine’s Day on the surgery table when he underwent repairs for a partial meniscus tear in his left knee. Considered by many as a potential Cy Young contender this season, it was devastating news for fans to hear before spring training had even begun. Clevinger has been nothing but optimistic regarding his return though, and has remained hopeful of beating the six to eight weeks recovery timetable.
Clearly the Indians’ front office won’t want to rush Clevinger back and risk causing detrimental long-term damage for the sake of a few starts in April. However, the 29-year-old, 6-foot-4 pitcher is already up and throwing again, posting videos of his remarkable progress on his social media.
🔮ᴵ ᵈᵒⁿ'ᵗ ᵖʳᵃᶜᵗⁱᶜᵉ ˢᵃⁿᵗᵉʳⁱᵃ,ᴵᵃⁱⁿ'ᵗ ᵍᵒᵗ ⁿᵒ ᶜʳʸˢᵗᵃˡ ᵇᵃˡˡ, 𝚋𝚞𝚝 𝚌𝚛𝚊𝚣𝚢 𝚠𝚑𝚊𝚝 𝚝𝚠𝚘 𝚠𝚎𝚎𝚔𝚜 𝚌𝚊𝚗 𝚍𝚘🔮 pic.twitter.com/TsGjXkUE9v
— ❂ Mike 𝕊𝕌ℕ𝕊ℍ𝕀ℕ𝔼 Clevinger ❂ (@Mike_Anthony13) February 28, 2020
Thankfully Clevinger has a history of healing faster than us ordinary mortals; last year, he strained a muscle in his back against the Blue Jays in just his second start of the season. The injury was expected to keep him sidelined for most of the summer, but he recovered within two months and was able to cobble together an impressive overall campaign. From July until the end of the season Clevinger recorded a 2.17 ERA over 17 starts, with 138 strikeouts in 107⅔ innings of work, limiting opposing hitters to a paltry .218 batting average. If the Indians want to compete for the postseason in 2020, they’ll need a healthy Clevinger firing on all cylinders to sustain those sort of numbers over an entire year.
Acquired in the Corey Kluber trade with the Rangers this offseason, flamethrowing reliever Emmanuel Clase has also been struck by the injury bug. Originally expected to be one of Francona’s new toys in the bullpen, Clase’s debut for the Tribe will be delayed by 8-12 weeks as he recovers from a strain of the teres major muscle in his upper back. It’s actually very similar to the injury Clevinger suffered last year, so the hope is Clase will make a full recovery without adverse effects preventing him from pitching at full capacity. He was the centrepiece in the Kluber deal, so fans are understandably miffed at this setback, denying us the viewing pleasure of his 102-mph cutter blazing past overwhelmed hitters.
Clase’s absence is another blow to a pitching staff already facing uncertainty in 2020. Starters Carlos Carrasco and Aaron Civale both saw their spring debuts delayed thanks to respective hip and groin issues. Their aches and pains have been regarded as relatively minor setbacks, but with the way things have been going so far, nothing can be taken for granted. Adam Cimber, a mainstay in the Tribe bullpen last year, has been suffering with tightness in his side as well, bad enough to keep him off the mound for over a week.
Thankfully, the lineup has remained largely unscathed so far. Here, we have enjoyed some spring positives, with Bobby Bradley fresh among them. The first baseman and renowned slugger is off to a hot start this spring, showing serious signs of cutting the strikeout profligacy that curtailed his major league debut in 2019. Bradley is still considered a major prospect for the Indians, the heir-apparent to Carlos Santana at first base, and faces stiff competition to break camp with the major league roster. However, an impressive March will do him wonders in the eyes of management. I’m positive we’ll return to discuss Bradley again and his future on this Indians team.
In the meantime, sit back and relax, and bask in the pressure-free baseball before us. Sure, that Francisco Lindor home run clearing the fence won’t mean anything in a month’s time, but it’s sunny where they are, and will be soon wherever you’re reading this (hopefully).
Ash Day is covering the Cleveland Indians throughout the 2020 season as part of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @AshDay29