Padres' Mike Clevinger makes his first start since Tommy John; The return of the right-hander strengthens the depth of the club's rotation - New Style Motorsport

The Padres and Guardians were in action Wednesday afternoon in the first game of a doubleheader and it was Mike Clevinger who took the mound for the Padres. This was Clevinger’s first start since Game 1 of the 2020 NLDS, in which he was eliminated after just 26 pitches. He has since undergone Tommy John surgery and his return was further delayed by a knee injury.

This is a guy who entered Wednesday with a 3.19 career ERA (141 WAS+) and 603 strikeouts in 542 1/3 career regular-season innings. Quite simply, Clevinger is capable of pitching like a frontline starter and the Padres just added him to his arsenal.

Wednesday showed glimpses of its former self, but there was also some rust, which is understandable. His average fastball was 93.5 mph and that’s down from 2019-20 levels when he sat at 95. He wasn’t very efficient, throwing 95 pitches in his 4 2/3 innings, and only 54 of those pitches were strikes. All three walks were also higher than he would like. Still, he struck out four, induced weak contact and only allowed one run on four hits while he was in the game.

He tired in the fifth inning and walked twice before leaving the game. The bullpen allowed those legacy running backs to score, so Clevinger ultimately got three earned runs. That makes the line look uglier than Clevinger, at least through his first four innings.

Overall, the positives outweighed the negatives and he will likely improve in his next outings as he re-acclimates to the league. He’ll be a nice addition to a team that looks like a strong playoff contender thus far.

Overall, the Padres’ rotation is pretty enviable. Blake Snell is currently on the disabled list with a groin injury, but once he returns, he’ll have seven MLB-caliber starting pitchers.

We already covered Clevinger. Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove and Sean Manaea are capable of pitching like All-Stars. Snell has a Cy Young.

MacKenzie Gore opens Game 2 of Wednesday’s doubleheader and has pitched well enough to stay in the majors rather than be sent back to Triple-A. The former third overall pick and top 10 prospect has a 1.76 ERA, 2.49 FIP, 1.17 WHIP and 20 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings in his three starts thus far. He was good in the spring and outstanding in a Triple-A start. He looks too good to be sent back. As one scout commented to me, “How does it help someone to dominate Triple-A?”

However, there are concerns ahead with him throwing too much this season. We know all about missing a minor league season in 2020. Last year, Gore only worked 50 1/3 innings.

Nick Martinez has had two good starts, one bad and one mediocre. He’s certainly the worst of the bunch right now, but he’s still a major league-caliber starter. He was great in Japan last year (1.62 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 146 strikeouts in 149 2/3 innings). However, it is safe to say that he is number seven here.

For now, the Padres seem ready to use a six-man rotation and that’s a great way to guard against Gore’s workload, Clevinger’s swollen elbow and the like. However, they won’t have a seven-man rotation when Snell returns, so something has to give. Right now, the best move would be Martinez to the bullpen, but sending Gore back to the minors or to the disabled list with a mystery ailment to avoid workload issues could be the play, eventually.

Maybe the answer is as simple as Martinez in the bullpen and Gore being shut down at some point.

Meanwhile, the Padres are seeing one of those “good problems to have.” They have too many good starting pitchers.

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