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Mike Clevinger Continues To Blossom For Indians

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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