The Padres and Guardians were in action Wednesday afternoon in the first game of a doubleheader and it was Mike Clevinger taking the hill for the Padres. This was the first outing for Clevinger since Game 1 of the 2020 NLDS, in which he was removed after just 26 pitches. He has since had Tommy John surgery and his return was further delayed by a knee injury.
This is a guy who came into Wednesday with a career 3.19 ERA (141 ERA+) and 603 strikeouts in 542 1/3 career regular-season innings. Simply, Clevinger is capable of pitching like a frontline starter and the Padres just added him to their arsenal.
Wednesday, he showed flashes of his old self, but there was also some rust, which is understandable. His average fastball was 93.5 miles per hour and that’s down from 2019-20 levels when he sat at 95. He wasn’t very efficient, throwing 95 pitches in his 4 2/3 innings, and only 54 of those pitches were strikes. The three walks was higher than he’d like as well. Still, he struck out four, induced some weak contact and only allowed one run on four hits while he was in the game.
He did tire in the fifth inning and issued two walks before departing the game. Those inherited runners were allowed to score by the bullpen, so Clevinger was ultimately charged with three earned runs. That makes the line look uglier than Clevinger did, at least through his first four innings.
Overall, the positives outweighed the negatives and he’ll likely get better in his next few outings as he gets re-acclimated to the league. He’ll be a nice addition for a team that looks like a strong playoff contender so far.
MacKenzie Gore starts the second game of Wednesday’s doubleheader, and he’s pitched well enough to stay in the majors instead of being shipped back to Triple-A. The former third overall draft pick and top-10 prospect has a 1.76 ERA, 2,49 FIP, 1.17 WHIP and 20 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings in his three starts so far. He was good in the spring and outstanding in one Triple-A start. He looks too good to be sent back down. As a scout remarked to me, “How does him dominating Triple-A help anyone?”
There are concerns down the road with him throwing too much this season, though. We know all about the lack of a minor-league season in 2020. Last year, Gore only worked 50 1/3 innings.
Nick Martinez has had two good starts, one bad one and another that was mediocre. He’s certainly the worst of the bunch right now, but he’s still a big-league-caliber starter. He was great in Japan last year (1.62 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 146 strikeouts in 149 2/3 innings). It is safe, however, to say he’s number seven here.
For now, the Padres appear set to use a six-man rotation and that’s a great way to guard against Gore’s workload, Clevinger’s elbow flaring up and the like. They aren’t going to a seven-man rotation when Snell returns, though, so something has to give. At this moment, the best move would be Martinez to the bullpen, but sending Gore back to the minors or the injured list with a mysterious ailment in order to guard against workload issues might be the play, eventually.
Maybe the answer is as simple as Martinez in the bullpen and Gore getting shut down at some point.
In the meantime, the Padres are looking at one of those “good problems to have.” They have too many good starting pitchers.