July 7, 2022

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Clevinger to make 2022 debut against his former team

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PITTSBURGH — The Padres’ thriving starting rotation is about to get even deeper.

Right-hander Mike Clevinger will make his return from Tommy John surgery on Tuesday in Cleveland, manager Bob Melvin announced on Saturday. It has been a long time coming for Clevinger, who missed the entire 2021 season.

Throw in the fact that Clevinger’s return will also mark his first start against his former team, and it’s something of a dream scenario for Clevinger.

“I’ve had that one marked on my calendar since before the season,” said Clevinger, who spent 4 1/2 seasons with Cleveland before he was dealt to the Padres at the 2020 Trade Deadline.

What does this mean for the Padres rotation?
The Padres, with a deep group of starting pitchers, haven’t quite figured out what Clevinger’s arrival means for the rest of their rotation. MacKenzie Gore earned his promotion when Blake Snell landed on the injured list earlier this month with left adductor tightness.

Gore, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the team’s top pitching prospect, seemed likeliest to give way. But he has been excellent in his first three big league starts, posting a 1.76 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings.

Gore has earned at least one further start, with Melvin noting that the rookie left-hander will start on Wednesday in the team’s second game in Cleveland. Melvin then indicated that Nick Martinez would start against Miami on Thursday, lining up what looks like a temporary six-man rotation.

Entering play Saturday, Padres starters had a 3.20 ERA, good enough for eighth in the Majors.

What to expect from Clevinger
Initially, the Padres hoped that Clevinger would be part of their season-opening starting five. But in a shortened Spring Training, that process felt hurried. He made one spring start, and his right knee flared up. The Padres decided to pump the brakes on his progression.

“There was a sense of almost rushing,” Clevinger said. “It probably wasn’t a good place for me to be rushing, coming back from [surgery]. So I think it was kind of a blessing in disguise, to take it back, take a breath and really hone in on what I need to hone in on.”

If Clevinger can return to his pre-surgery form, that’s a huge boost for the Padres’ rotation. He owns a 3.19 ERA in five big league seasons.

Clevinger made three rehab starts, including his most recent on Wednesday in which he threw 67 pitches for Triple-A El Paso, allowing a run on four hits and one walk while striking out five over 3 2/3 innings.

“I’m commanding all five pitches pretty well,” Clevinger said. “So I feel like I’m ready to take that next step.”

What’s next?
With nine games in nine days beginning Tuesday night, the Padres seem open to using a six-man rotation in the short term. But what happens after that?

Presuming the rest of their rotation remains healthy, it could be a battle between Gore and Martinez for the final rotation spot. The Padres will get at least one more data point on each.

If Gore were to win the spot, Martinez presumably would slide to a long-man role in the bullpen (particularly valuable considering rosters will be downsized on Monday). If Martinez were to earn the job, Gore could be sent to El Paso to make further starts.

Of course, there’s also the prospect of Snell’s impending return. Until earlier this week, the Padres weren’t sure how long it would take for Snell to ramp back up.

They now have some clarity on that front: Snell threw four scoreless innings for High-A Fort Wayne on Thursday, allowing two hits and no walks. It’s entirely possible Snell might need only one more rehab start before he’s ready.

So what happens then? The Padres, to be quite honest, aren’t sure yet. That’s a problem for another day, Melvin has said.

Considering the way their 2021 season ended — with an utter dearth of starting-pitching options — the Padres are quick to point out that these are good problems to have.

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