588 days. That’s how long it had been since Mike Clevinger had served in an MLB regular-season game. That’s not what the Padres were hoping for when they traded six players for him to Cleveland, but through injuries to biceps, elbows, knees, another unknown setback and a brief appearance in the 2020 postseason (only to be nullified in the second inning) . ), Clevinger celebrated his triumphant return to the mound against his former team last night. It was an emotional moment, one that shouldn’t be overlooked, so I won’t do that.
Clevinger was the Padres’ starter in Game 1 of yesterday’s doubleheader. He was due to make his debut for 2022 on Tuesday but rain forced the game back a day. The agonizing wait gnawed at Clevinger. It was a picture-perfect moment, waiting to happen, but every time that moment drew closer, something would push him away. In 2020, it was this undisclosed injury that got him from game 1 the NLDS. Shortly thereafter, Clevinger learned his return to the field would be put on hold for the entire 2021 season thanks to Tommy John.
Eventually getting the go sign, Clevinger managed to make several appearances against minor leagues and a start to spring training. While that performance didn’t impact the season, it was enough to cheer up the former Cleveland player: “It felt really real…It didn’t go as planned, but the only way up is from here.” Clevinger was supposed to be part of the Padres’ opening day rotation, but on opening day he was again forced to miss time, this time due to a Sprain of the right knee.
It had become a bad joke. Every time Clevinger was supposed to return and let the world see his talent again, it was shut down. He morphed into the Yoenis Cespedes of the pitchers: always on the verge of returning, never quite getting there.
However, it was only right that Clevinger returned last night, in the same field where he spent the first four and a half years of his career. The same field in which he established himself as one of the game’s best young stars. He shared the same field with several members of the current Guardian team. That’s a much better comeback than what Clevinger would have pitched during the Padres’ opening series against Arizona.
Clevinger pitched 4.2 innings and allowed three runs with four hits while striking out four. The Padres won 5-4. However, it didn’t matter what the box score said. 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’d pitch again… I’m just happy.”
Clevinger definitely had his ups and downs in the big ones. One of those lows came just before the 2020 trade to the Padres when he and teammate Zach Plesac broke COVID protocol. The pair’s decision led to a heated argument among the Guardians players, even some players threaten to suspend the season if Clevinger and Plesac remained on the Guardians’ list. Many of Clevinger’s teammates also believed he hadn’t spoken truthfully about whether he broke protocol before boarding the team’s plane on Aug. 9. However, Clevinger’s whereabouts the night before were never proven. As foolish as these decisions by Clevinger were, they weren’t meant to take too much of the hurdles he had to overcome to get back on the hill. After all, the teammates who wanted Clevinger gone got their wish less than a month later.
Props to you, Clevinger! It’s been a long time since we saw that signature wobble on the mound, and you’ve given the entire sports world a story to cheer for. Here’s to a strong campaign in 2022.