Will the Sun Shine on the San Diego Padres?

Credit: AP Photo

Credit: USA Today Sports

The San Diego Padres should get a boost in the rotation this coming season as Mike Clevinger will return to action. 

Early this month, San Diego Padres’ pitcher Mike Clevinger, AKA Sunshine, took baby steps on his way back to the mound.

He threw just ten pitches but plans to increase his workload gradually. His arm needs time to rest and recover from his second Tommy John surgery.

As with all such surgeries, recovery and return to form are not guaranteed, especially the second time around. Although pitchers like Adam Wainwright, Stephen Strasburg, and Jacob deGrom succeeded after their second surgeries, they are in the minority. The San Diego Padres can’t count on Clevinger returning to form.

Acquired by the Padres in August 2020, Clevinger appeared in just four games before being shut down with an elbow injury. In 19 innings, he gave a hint of what could have been with two wins against one loss and an ERA of 2.84. The Padres sorely missed his presence in the team’s first postseason appearance since 2006. Although San Diego outlasted the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card Series, the winning ended there. Garret Richards, Zach Davies, and Adrian Morejon toed the rubber in the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers Clayton Kershaw, Dustin May, and Julio Urias with predictable results. Clevinger, who had been shut down in late September, had been cleared to start, but his elbow balked.

In November 2020, A. J. Preller, president of baseball operations and general manager for the Padres, offered Clevinger a two-year deal ($2 million this year, $6.5 in 2022) with a focus on his post-Tommy-John future. Clevinger missed the entire 2021 season but will have had 15 months to recover before the start of spring training 2022.

Last year, Preller assembled an impressive pitching staff thanks to the additions of Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove, who joined Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet, and Adrian Morejon. However, only Musgrove lived up to the expectations and hype, and the team had to fall back on the arms of the bullpen. A healthy Sunshine could have made a difference.

Selected by the Los Angeles Angels in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, Clevinger was traded to the Cleveland Indians (now the Cleveland Guardians) in 2014 and first called up in May 2016. The following year he became part of the rotation and compiled a record of 12-6 in 21 starts while striking out 137 batters in 121 2/3 innings.

(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

On August 31, 2020, the Padres sent Austin Hedges, Cal Quantrill, and Josh Naylor to Cleveland in return for Clevinger. His fastball can reach 99 miles per hour, and he also throws a changeup, curve, and a slider. During his career, the 30-year-old pitcher has a record of 44-23, an ERA of 3.10. WHIP of 1,186, with 603 strikeouts and 13.2 WAR.

Before Preller announced his choice of manager to replace Jayce Tingler, he hired Ruben Niebla, Clevinger’s former pitching coach in Cleveland. He will take the place of Larry Rothschild, who was fired in August. Niebla spent 21 seasons in Cleveland, working up the ranks from rookie ball to the major leagues. Until 2020, he had the role of minor league pitching coordinator, and he’s known for his ability to work with the entire staff.

Clevinger has high praise for Niebla. In Cleveland, he’s worked with pitchers like Shane Bieber (2021, 2.6 WAR, 3.17 ERA over 96.2 innings) as well as former Padre pitcher Quantrill. In his two years with the Padres, Quantrill pitched 120 innings (8-8, 120.1 innings, 4.79 ERA, 88 ERA+). Since the trade. Quantrill has thrived (164.1 innings, 8-3, 164.1 innings, 2.79 ERA, 157 ERA+).

In his recent remarks, Clevinger has also praised the competitive yet supportive atmosphere in the Cleveland clubhouse. In all the gnashing of teeth over the Padres’ disappointing fall from contention, the subject of clubhouse culture has come up repeatedly. The addition of Bob Melvin as manager, as well as Niebla and Clevinger, should improve the atmosphere in the dugout.

Unfortunately, the Padres cannot bet on Clevinger’s successful return. Over time, as surgeons become more experienced with a second Tommy John surgery, the results should improve. Age also skews the results, as the majority of second surgeries have been performed on pitchers over 30. Clevinger will turn 31 in December.

After the confounding and disheartening end to the 2021 season, the Padres and their fans can find a glimmer of hope in the news that Mike Clevinger has started his rehab from Tommy John #2.  A second year in San Diego should increase the comfort level of Yu Darvish and Blake Snell, and a rotation including Clevinger, Musgrove, Darvish, and Snell looks formidable (at least on paper).

That rotation, coupled with a lineup including team WAR leaders Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, and Jake Cronenworth, should put the Padres on track to fulfill their promise in the 2022 season. Add the first experienced manager in Preller’s tenure, and the chances of success increase exponentially.

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Diane Calkins
Baseball has been a part of Diane's life since her father played professionally (mostly at the minor league level). She has written for a number of publications and concentrated on companion animal welfare. She welcomes the opportunity to write about the sport she loves. Diane shares her home with her husband and a house full of rescued animals.
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