Despite making a Herculean effort to return for the Padres postseason, Mike Clevinger has no regrets about how the 2020 season ended.
In a flurry of trade deadline moves, the Padres made the biggest move in Major League Baseball, acquiring Mike Clevinger from the Cleveland Indians. The offense looked poised for a postseason run, but the starting pitching held the franchise from taking that next step. Chris Paddack had an underwhelming sophomore campaign, and the team lacked another threat aside from Dinelson Lamet and Zach Davies.
Clevinger was expected to be that guy, under contract through the 2022 season. This was no rental, as the Padres competitive window was just beginning to open. However, disaster struck at the end of the regular season when Clevinger left his August 23 start against the Angels after just one inning.
The 29-year-old was diagnosed with bicep tightness, which presented a significant obstacle as the team clinched their first postseason berth since 2006. To add insult to injury, the team lost Lamet two days later. Without their two frontline starts, the Padres remarkably topped the Cardinals in the Wild Card round, and Clevinger was set to return against the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLDS. Or so he hoped.
Something just wasn’t right, as Clevinger allowed three walks in his only inning before exiting for good. Now 30 years old, the Jacksonville, Florida native had his second Tommy John surgery. Asked if he had any regrets pitching in the postseason, Clevinger painted a clear picture.
“100 percent, I would have done it again,” Clevinger said without any hesitation. “There’s a bunch of cool things that come along with playing in the big leagues, but there’s nothing more fun than the postseason when every single person is willing to die for the man next to him. Throughout a 162-game season, it’s hard to keep that same kind of energy…There’s no better stage than the postseason when everyone is at the top of their game.”
While Clevinger was in recovery mode, general manager A.J. Preller and the Padres’ front office had the busiest offseason of any team, acquiring Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove to bolster the rotation. Add to that, the Padres re-signed Jurickson Profar, locked up Fernando Tatis Jr. for life, signed KBO superstar Ha-Seong Kim, and bolstered their bullpen with the additions of Keone Kela and Mark Melancon.
Lamet is scheduled to return this season, and the Padres will monitor his workload. But Clevinger will miss all of the 2021 season, watching his team improve over the winter.
“That’s what I was looking forward to,” Clevinger explained. “Once I saw that everyone is going to be here for a while, and then we even locked up Tatis for 14 years, you just see they’re trying to build a winning culture here. It’s something that I think not just I want to be a part of, but I get a sense I’m sure guys all around the league that want to be a part of the Padres right now. We’re doing something special.”
The Padres are projected to finish second in the NL West to the reigning World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers by most media outlets. Still, several projections have them with the second-best record in the National League. A talented roster for sure, but don’t count out some of the younger players to have an impact.
One of those players, MacKenzie Gore, the former third overall pick in 2017, is still looking to make his big league debut. With no minor league season, the 22-year-old spent the year tweaking his mechanics, and Clevinger will be the first to say how much he’s improved from last year.
“I had the privilege of watching and working with him last year before the playoffs on the field in San Diego,” Clevinger said of the Padres young pitcher. “He has every bit of talent to be one of those guys that’s a household name, one of those front of the rotation guys. This spring training, you’ve really started to see with his fastball. His fastball is really jumping out of his hand.”
Mike Clevinger will be missed in the 2021 season, but the Padres’ front office has done more than enough to replace him and then some. Assuming he returns 100 percent healthy in 2022, the Padres rotation looks like the best in baseball on paper.