CLEVELAND — Mike Clevinger may be the Indians’ fourth starter, but he’s pitched like an ace his first two outings.
Clevinger continued his dominating start to the season and Cleveland downed Toronto 3-1 Sunday afternoon in front of 17,264 fans at Progressive Field to complete a four-game sweep.
A day after Carlos Carrasco set a franchise record with 12 strikeouts over five innings, Clevinger struck out 10 in five and allowed only a hit and a walk in his seventh career double-digit strikeout game.
The only thing stopping Clevinger was upper-back tightness, which ended his outing after 75 pitches.
He was removed for precautionary reasons, but the Indians will have their medical team examine him today, according to manager Terry Francona.
“The hope is that it’s an overreaction on our part. We just don’t want to guess,” Francona said. “We’ll get him looked at and hopefully it’s good, it’s just stiff in the back area and we’re good to go. I think there’s some real positive signs. He tested out really well. He’s still throwing the ball great. We’ll hope for the best.”
Clevinger said he first felt tightness in the second inning, but it got worse in the fifth.
“It started pulling on every part of my back,” Clevinger said. “I wanted to get back out there, but they made the right call. It’s not worth it now this early. It was a good hot day. Let other people go and enjoy that weather, too. I think it was more precautionary than anything. I mean it was just being safe. I was thinking, maybe if I would have kept going, it could have been a coin flip on what could have happened later on.
“Everything was working, that’s why it was so hard for me to accept it. I was rolling. I didn’t want to leave the mound at that time, but it was the right call.”
Clevinger hasn’t allowed a run over his first two starts, and only two hits, striking out 22 in 12 innings. He’s recorded at least one strikeout in each inning.
“I’m just way more comfortable with my routines,” Clevinger said. “I’m way more comfortable with my mechanics, what I’m doing and how I’m sequencing (hitters) and just my plan going into the season. Everything’s just getting better and better.”
Indians starting pitchers as a whole have struck out 75 over 53 2⁄3 innings.
“That’s a momentum killer for the other teams, especially when you’re seeing your guys go up just to walk right back to the dugout over and over again for a series, that has to wear on you mentally at some point,” Clevinger said. “It’s good to have the staff be loaded like this.”
Clevinger retired the first nine, striking out five. He allowed a leadoff walk, followed by a double from Freddy Galvis in the fourth, but struck out the next five before getting Richard Urena to end the fifth.
“When you have your back against the wall, and our pitchers all seem to have done that, they execute their best pitches,” Francona said. “That’s a really good trait or characteristic to have.”
Indians hitters went to work early against right-hander Marcus Stroman.
Jake Bauers and Carlos Santana had consecutive two-out doubles to score the first run in the opening inning, with Tyler Naquin driving in Santana on a base hit.
Santana has hit safely in eight of the first nine games.
After struggling to start the season, Naquin, who matched a career high with three hits, has looked much better, going 7-for-16 with a double and RBI over his last five games.
“I just go up there with the same approach and know it’s gonna come,” Naquin said. “It’s early, it’s cold. We had a couple good days here. You gotta survive April and get to that warm weather where everything will warm up. What do we got, 20 some at-bats in? This is baseball, you’ve just got to let it play out.”
Closer Brad Hand recorded his second straight inning-plus save, entering with one out in the eighth and runners on first and third and getting the inning-ending double play. He retired the side in order in the ninth, striking out the final two batters for his fourth save.
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