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Behind the Box Score: Mike Clevinger's changeup

Two changeups defined Mike Clevinger's start on Friday, both of which traveled 380+ feet through the air and landed in the right field seats to put a dent in what could have been a promising outing.

CLEVELAND – Baseball is a game of inches.

From fly balls to diving catches to pitch locations, the distance between winning and losing can be such a minuscule measure.

Mike Clevinger’s changeup justified this notion as it fell right into the bat barrels of Brandon Moss and Mike Moustakas for a pair of game-changing home runs, the only damage to the right-hander’s ledger – 5 IP, 8 H, 4 R/ER, 1 BB, 6 K (83 pitches, 57 strikes, 68.7%, three groundouts, five flyouts).

“It was an inconsistent day with that pitch,” said Clevinger. “That pitch stuck out to me. I just didn’t find consistency throughout the game.”

On the season, Clevinger’s changeup is used at a 17.5% rate with an average velocity of 86.1-mph, his number one secondary offering. Opposing hitters entered play batting .118 (2-for-17) with two singles and 11 whiffs on a sample size of his 54 changeups thrown.

Those numbers took a devastating hit against the Royals on Friday night at Progressive Field…

Result: Three-run homer on an 0-1 changeup

Pitch velocity: 86.5-mph

Exit velocity: 108-mph (barreled ball)

Distance: 386 feet

Launch Angle: 24 degrees

Hit probability: 97%

Result: Solo home run on a 1-0 changeup

Pitch velocity: 86.8-mph

Exit velocity: 102.7-mph (barreled ball)

Distance: 389 feet

Launch Angle: 35 degrees

Hit probability: 60%

In both at-bats, Clevinger leaves a changeup in high batting average locations for each respective hitter. Even against the struggling Royals, he paid the price despite coming within inches of notching a second consecutive quality start.

“It’s a shame because I thought he threw the ball pretty well,” manager Terry Francona said. “On two changeups that both of them he kind of yanked across the plate, kind of went right into Moss’ swing path. And it’s a shame because he really – I think he had six strikeouts and only the one walk. That was the last hitter he faced. But you know, the damage was done. Like you said, on two swings. But he worked ahead, he did a lot of good things. I don’t want him to lose sight of that.”

With Corey Kluber throwing five scoreless innings at Double-A Akron, the Indians are on the brink of making a roster move for their starting rotation. Clevinger stands out as the likely candidate to return to minor league competition.

“I’d get some good movement, some good bite, throw it wherever I wanted to,” Clevinger said of the changeup. “Then I noticed it would start trickling back over the plate, not getting the same bite at the end.”

The 26-year-old right-hander will need to hone in on this pitch and work on keeping it away from the nitro zones of premier power hitters like Moustakas and Moss.

“That’s the hardest pill to swallow,” said Clevinger in regards to blowing a 4-0 advantage. “You feel like you’re letting down your family in there. They had something going and I kind of slowed it down and then not just slowed it down but gave up the lead.”

Expect Clevinger to make further adjustments to his high-ceiling repertoire as he continues to adjust to the challenges of the big leagues.

John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.

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