Posted on February 15, 2020, by Bryan Zarpentine

Cleveland Indians Mike Clevinger
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Keeping their starting rotation healthy was a problem for the Cleveland Indians in 2019, and it looks like it could be a problem again in 2020. On Friday, the Tribe announced that incumbent ace Mike Clevinger underwent knee surgery that will keep him sidelined for the next six to eight weeks. That timeline will surely keep him off the opening day roster and will keep him out for at least the first few weeks of the regular season.

Clevinger suffered a partial tear of the meniscus in his left knee on Wednesday while performing drills during the start of spring training. Trainers were concerned enough to send him for an MRI that revealed the tear. The Indians are disappointed but can take some solace in the fact that the injury happened early in camp and shouldn’t have a long-term effect on Clevinger’s season.

“It’s not doomsday,” Indians manager Terry Francona said Friday. “One, we know he’s a quick healer. And two, he will be able to keep his arm in [good] condition the entire time. I’d prefer it didn’t happen, but he’s going to be OK.”

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Short-term or not, losing Clevinger for the early part of the season is far from ideal. The 29-year-old has emerged as a frontline starter over the last three years and is coming off the best season of his career. Despite being limited to 21 starts by back and ankle injuries, Clevinger was 13-4 with a 2.71 ERA in 2019. Any starts he misses during the early part of the season is a big deal for a team that’s no longer favored to win the AL Central.

Moreover, an injury to a starting pitcher is reminiscent of last season when the Indians struggled to keep pitchers healthy. Clevinger missed significant time through multiple stints on the IL. Former ace Corey Kluber was absent almost the entire season while veteran Carlos Carrasco was away for several months after being diagnosed with cancer. With the Indians missing the playoffs by a small margin, it’s impossible not to think that those injuries were an important factor.

The silver lining is that the Indians have a wealth of starting pitching depth. The club traded away Kluber over the winter and Trevor Bauer last summer because they had more than enough options to get by without them. That should make Cleveland confident about surviving Clevinger’s absence early in the season. Carrasco and Shane Bieber will now be the top contender’s to be the opening day starter. Adam Plutko, Zach Plesac, and Aaron Civale figure to round out the rotation to start the season with even more depth behind them if necessary.

“It’s shade of last year, I guess, feeling-wise, but in that same vein, last year we had a lot of guys step up and really perform well,” said Plutko. “At the same time, we really want Clev out there on the mound. He’s a guy that’s gonna anchor our staff as [a] whole.”

While the Indians have the rotation depth to survive a few weeks without Clevinger, this still isn’t a great way to start of spring training. Clevinger is the undisputed ace of the staff and would have likely been the team’s opening day starter. Perhaps more importantly, the Indians are a team that needs to win with pitching in 2020. Even if the news could have been worse, losing their ace for at least a few starts is an early setback for their playoff hopes this season.

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