588 days. That’s how long it had been since Mike Clevinger pitched in a regular season MLB game. That’s not what the Padres were hoping for when they traded six players to Cleveland for him, but through injuries to his biceps, elbow, knee, another undisclosed setback, and a brief appearance in the 2020 postseason (only to be lifted in the second inning), Clevinger made his triumphant return to the mound last night against his former team. It was an emotional moment, one that shouldn’t be overlooked, so I’m not going to.
Clevinger was the Padres’ starter in Game 1 of yesterday’s doubleheader. He was supposed to make his 2022 debut on Tuesday, but rain forced the game back a day. The agonizing wait was eating away at Clevinger. It was a storybook moment waiting to happen, but every time that moment came close, something would push it away. In 2020, it was that undisclosed injury that took him out of Game 1 of the NLDS. Shortly after, Clevinger learned his return to the field would be put on hold for the entire 2021 season thanks to Tommy John.
When he was finally given the go-sign, Clevinger managed to make several appearances against minor leaguers and one start in spring training. Even though that appearance didn’t have any effect on the season, it was enough to get the former Cleveland player revved up: “It felt really real...It didn’t go as planned, but the only way to go is up from here.” Clevinger was supposed to be a part of the Padres’ Opening Day rotation, but on Opening Day, he was once again forced to miss time, this time due to a right knee sprain.
It had become a bad joke. Anytime Clevinger was supposed to return and let the world witness his talent once again, it was shut down. He was turning into the Yoenis Cespedes of pitchers: always on the verge of return, never quite getting there.
It was only right for Clevinger to make his return last night though, on the same field he spent the first four and a half years of his career. The same field where he established himself as one of the best young stars in the game. The same field he shared with several members of the current Guardians’ team. That’s a way better comeback than what would’ve been had Clevinger pitched during the Padres’ opening series against Arizona.
Clevinger pitched 4.2 innings, allowing three runs on four hits while striking out four. The Padres won 5-4. It didn’t matter what the box score said though. All that mattered was that Clevinger did something we weren’t sure we’d ever see him do again. Even Clevinger had his doubts. After the game, he told reporters “I didn’t think I was going to pitch again...I’m just happy.”
Clevinger has definitely had his ups and downs in the bigs. One of those lows came just before being traded to the Padres in 2020, when he and teammate Zach Plesac broke COVID protocol. That decision by the pair led to a heated argument among the Guardians’ players with a few players even threatening to sit out the season if Clevinger and Plesac remained on the Guardians’ roster. Many of Clevinger’s teammates also believed he was untruthful about whether or not he’d broken protocol before boarding the team plane on August 9. However, Clevinger’s whereabouts the night before have never been proven. As dumb as those decisions from Clevinger were, they shouldn’t take too much away from the hurdles he had to overcome to get back on the mound. After all, those teammates that wanted Clevinger gone got their wish less than a month later.
Props to you, Clevinger! It’s been a long time coming since we’ve seen that signature waggle on the mound, and you gave the entire sports world a story to root for. Here’s to a strong 2022 campaign.