CLEVELAND — The scoreboard at Progressive Field has a nifty graphic where flames shoot out of the numbers when a pitch hits at least 95 mph on the radar gun.
Cleveland starter Mike Clevinger kept the board on fire throughout the game Monday during the Indians’ 5-3 home-opening victory over the Chicago White Sox.
Reaching top speeds of 97 mph, Clevinger went seven innings, allowing one hit and no runs while striking out a career-high 12 batters. It was the sixth double-digit strikeout game of his career and third against the White Sox.
“Actually, it was a tick down today than what it was throughout spring,” Clevinger said. “It’s something we’ve been working on this whole time. I think during my last outing in spring I averaged about 96 (mph) and today I think I averaged about 95. Cold weather did play a little bit of a factor, but not much.”
Clevinger left the game with a 1-0 lead but the bullpen allowed three runs in the eighth inning before Cleveland scored four times in the bottom of the inning, rendering the starter with a no-decision.
Not getting the victory didn’t diminish the season-opening performance by Clevinger. He and Trevor Bauer each allowed one hit or fewer over seven innings in the first four games of the season — just the second time since 1908 a team has accomplished the feat. Oakland’s Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir did it in 2015.
It was also the first time since 1950 that three starting pitches — including Corey Kluber — worked at least seven innings and allowed two earned runs or fewer over the club’s first four games.
“I thought he was terrific. He was raring back and he was letting it eat,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He was just missing on so many pitches, I was kind of worried his pitch count was going to get up there pretty quick. But then he had a couple short innings so that he could get us to the seventh, but I thought he was really good.”
The outing was also just the latest chapter of dominance against the White Sox. Clevinger is 4-2 with a 2.53 ERA against the division opponent during his career, including an 0.95 ERA in four starts since the start of the 2018 season.
Not bad seeing as how the forecast was calling for near-freezing temperatures.
“At first it wasn’t that bad,” Clevinger said. “Also if it was 50 degrees I think I would have been sweating because I was so hyped up. It didn’t get bad until the shade covered the mound and that’s when the sweat started drying up and the wind started coming in … but it wasn’t that bad.”
While the home fans were bundled up in winter coats and most of the players wore long-sleeved shirts under their jerseys, Clevinger was out on the mound throwing in his normal short sleeves and bare arms.
“That was a big debate,” he said with a laugh. “Last year I actually had to (wear an undershirt) with the KC start, I think it was 26 degrees. Today it was 31 and I said, ‘I think I’m going to risk it … the sun’s out.’ It worked out well.”
Besides the adrenaline that Clevinger said pulses through him during every start, he said he was extra amped up Monday because of the atmosphere.
“Once you started walking out there and you saw the flags out there and saw everybody getting ready and you had that opening day hype, it had that playoff atmosphere and the fans definitely brought it today,” he said. “It was just as loud as it was the last time we played here.”
And maybe even a little bit warmer … thanks to the heat Clevinger provided.
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