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Mike Clevinger Continues To Blossom For Indians

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(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

ANAHEIMMike Clevinger openly admits he enjoys pitching against the Angels.

It’s not bitterness, he insists. It’s just enjoyable to pitch against the team that traded him away as a prospect, to stick it to them a little.

“It’s always good fun,” Clevinger said. “I came up there, know a lot of people over there…I try to use the emotion to my advantage.”

Clevinger pitched 5.1 scoreless innings to lead the Indians to a 6-0 win over the Angels on Monday. He improved to 3-0 in four starts against his former organization.

The Angels traded Clevinger to the Indians in a waiver trade for reliever Vinnie Pestano in Aug. 2014. At the time, Clevinger was 23 years old with a 5.37 ERA in high Class A, had Tommy John surgery on his ledger and was a mid-ranked prospect in one of the baseball’s worst farm systems.

A top prospect he was not. The odds he would one day become a power-armed starter for a World Series frontrunner seemed as long as his flowing locks of hair.

And yet, here he is. After his latest outing, Clevinger is 13-7, 3.54 in 31 career starts. Since the beginning of last season he trails only Corey Kluber in ERA (2.72) among the vaunted Indians starters.

“He’s a young, improving pitcher,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “and we’re enjoying watching it.”

The Indians have a history of unlocking unforeseen levels of success from starting pitching prospects. Kluber had a career 4.29 ERA in the minors when the Indians acquired him. Josh Tomlin was a 19th-round pick. Danny Salazar didn’t pitch above low Class A until his sixth season in the minors.

For Clevinger, the key was returning to health.

“My Tommy John took an extra long time, it was like a year and a half,” Clevinger said. “So when I came back I was back into starting and after about 50 innings I basically just had dead arm and had to build and throw through it. When I came to the Indians I kind of had that 100-inning year under my belt back from Tommy John and went from there…recollecting my mechanics.”

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Indians infielder Erik Gonzalez was a teammate of Clevinger’s at high Class A Carolina in 2014 when Clevinger joined the organization.

By the next year when they were both at Double-A Akron, Gonzalez could see the Indians had something special.

“He was always on the hitter, you could see it was just a matter of time before he’d be here (in Cleveland),” Gonzalez said. “That was the first time I saw we got a great pitcher.”

Clevinger has certainly been great recently, and continues to torment the Angels for letting him go.

From an A-ball prospect with an ERA over five to a big league standout, Clevinger has blossomed into a keeper in Cleveland.

“I can’t say I doubted that I wasn’t going to be who I’d be,” Clevinger said. “There was never a lack of confidence.”

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