Mike Clevinger: The Padres X-factor against the Dodgers

. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

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Credit: USA Today Sports

Mike Clevinger came to San Diego just a couple of months before the first playoff series in Padres-Dodgers history.

The right-handed pitcher was billed to be the starter for Game 1 of the NLDS in 2020. He is the man who could have pushed the Padres past their rival. Instead, Clevinger suffered an elbow injury one inning into Game 1. An injury that caused him to miss the entire 2021 season.

Clevinger’s time in San Diego has been a disappointing tenure. His 2022 ERA is the highest recorded since his rookie season. However, due to the fact the Padres used their top three starters to get past the New York Mets this past weekend, Clevinger will start in the most important Padres playoff game since 1998.

“Sunshine” will start Game 1, matching up against southpaw Julio Urias. Should the series be pushed to a decisive fifth game, Clevinger would be the one lined up to start. While Clevinger, who is a free agent after this season, has been a disappointing Padre, a pair of solid pitching performances to knock off the Dodgers could easily change his Padres legacy. 

There’s not really much to indicate that Clevinger is going to be able to turn it around. His 4.33 ERA leads to a 86 ERA+, which means that he is 14% worse than the average pitcher. His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is 4.98, which suggests that he was fortunate not to have an even worse ERA. The 31-year-old is striking out just 7.2 batters per nine innings, the lowest mark of his career. He’s also allowing 1.6 home runs every nine frames, which is also a career-worst.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of optimism for Clevinger, who is only starting of necessity. In three starts against Los Angeles this season, he’s given up 14 runs in 13 innings, surrendering five home runs in the process. He’s also managed to pitch at least six innings just once in his last seven trips to the mound.

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

However, there are some reasons to be optimistic about Clevinger. The one start in his last seven where he went six innings? It came last time out when he threw six strong frames, allowing just three hits and one run against the Chicago White Sox. Clevinger allowed a home run to Elvis Andrus, who led off the game but was in complete control after that.

The pitcher will also be working on nine days of rest, so he should have his absolute best stuff against L.A. Clevinger will not be overwhelmed by the moment, as he’s made eight appearances in the postseason. 

Clevinger’s first six playoff appearances were disappointing, as he allowed five runs in seven innings. However, all six appearances were opportunities out of the bullpen, an unfamiliar role for him. In his two starts, he’s worked six innings and allowed just one run. The second start was the scoreless inning in the 2020 NLDS that saw him leave injured. 

Clevinger will undoubtedly have a very short leash, as Bob Melvin will not want to see a game get away from him. If he struggles in Game 1, it’s possible that the Padres could turn to Yu Darvish on short rest.

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Mike Clevinger will need help from a batting order that struggled against the Dodgers all season. He will also need to reverse the trends that have plagued him all season. Trent Grisham proved exactly how possible that was in the NL Wild Card series victory over the Mets.

San Diego will need some heroes if they’re going to stun their rivals. Perhaps Mike Clevinger is that hero.

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