Injury Setback Helps Garrett Cleavinger Step Forward

At the 2017 trade deadline, the rebuilding Phillies dealt Jeremy Hellickson to the Orioles for a package that included lefthanded reliever Garrett Cleavinger, who had been pitching at Double-A.

“A trade was never on my radar,” Cleavinger said. “I really wasn’t pitching great at time. I was just trying to keep my head down and do my job. But it was a good feeling knowing that another team wanted me. I viewed it as a fresh start and a chance to play in front of new eyes with a team on the rise, so it was a good opportunity.”

Cleavinger will get another good opportunity when he attends his first big league camp. After an injury-marred 2018 season, he rebounded with a strong season at Double-A Reading in 2019 and earned a spot on the 40-man roster.

Strikeouts were the headline in Cleavinger’s 2019 season. The 25-year-old struck out 83 in 51.2 innings thanks to a midseason spike in velocity that turned heads and certainly would have enticed some team to grab him in the Rule 5 draft had the Phillies not protected him.

Cleavinger opened the season throwing 90-93 mph. That climbed to 93-97 mph. By the end, he was sitting 95 and touching 99. He throws a slider, curveball and changeup, but his fastball has been his separator. 

Cleavinger pitched at Oregon and was the Orioles’ third-round pick in 2015. He blew out the ACL in his right knee covering first base at high Class A Clearwater in June 2018. His rehab work with Phillies coaches and athletic trainers turned him into a stronger, harder-throwing pitcher.

“No one ever wants to get hurt and have surgery,” said Cleavinger, who is 6-foot-2, 220 pounds. “In the end, it made me step back, re-evaluate my mechanics and get my entire body in better shape. I’m really thankful to so many people in the organization who helped me.”

Control has been an issue for Cleavinger. He walked 5.9 per nine in 2019, but just four in his final 15 innings.

“Part of the excitement of being on the 40 is all the movement,” he said. “You never know when you might get the call.”

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