Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger doesn’t know exactly how he’ll react the next time he’s on the mound facing the Houston Astros.
They cheated, and he doesn’t like cheaters. On Friday night, he took aim at them.
“We’ll see,” he said.
“It’ll be fun.”
Clevinger has been one of the most outspoken critics of the Astros since their sign-stealing scandal broke earlier this month and rocked baseball, leading to suspensions, managerial firings in Houston, Boston and New York, and blanketing the sport in a net of suspicion as spring training approaches.
Once the season begins, the Astros will be under more scrutiny and they might have to deal with some high, hard pitches.
“I think players will deal with it the way it should be across the league,” Clevinger said.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a comfortable few ABs (at-bats) for a lot of those boys, and it shouldn’t be. They shouldn’t be comfortable.”
Asked what bothered him most about the scandal, Clevinger said, “Probably them accepting an award and cracking a joke about it without an apology.”
Clevinger, who went 13-4 last season for Cleveland, has long wondered about Houston’s hitters and their uncanny ability to hit tough pitches. He and former teammate Trevor Bauer raised concerns in the past about the Astros, and the revelation that they were using a camera in center field and banging trash cans to alert teammates of incoming pitches, gave the right-handers some vindication.
“I wouldn’t say it was common knowledge, but it’s been going around the league for a while as far as rumors there’s been a lot more substance involved,” Clevinger said.
“It’s just, we didn’t have the smoking gun ... and it finally came out and it was a reiteration of how cocky they were and how they treated other guys around the league. And for that to be going on just struck a chord with me.”
Clevinger said he was confident the Astros’ secrets would eventually leak. It was former Houston pitcher Mike Fiers, now with Oakland, who revealed that Houston used a video feed sent to a monitor near its dugout to decode signs and relay them to hitters.
“Me and Trevor Bauer since 2017 have been waiting — there’s no way they can keep this glued together,” Clevinger said. “There’s no way everyone’s going to keep their mouth shut. There’s no way they can keep not picking up contracts, not giving free agents money and no one is going to say anything. We knew something was going to happen and sure enough, it did.”
There’s still a part of Clevinger that wishes he and Bauer weren’t right about their suspicions.
“Obviously, we didn’t want it,” he said. “I’d rather me be the hippie conspiracy theorist and him be the (jerk). I’d totally rather it went that way, man, 100%. It sucks that we were right. But it wasn’t like we were just throwing stuff at a wall. There was a lot of stuff we knew that other people didn’t know we knew.”
And now that the Astros have been exposed, Clevinger said sign-stealing may be more prevalent than anyone realized.
“I’m not debating that it’s not,” he said. “The point is we know who it is. People see the repercussions now. I have no idea where it’s going to go from here, whether it’s detrimental enough, but I think there’s enough punishment involved that it’s going to steer teams away from doing it. Hopefully there will be more checks and balances involved in the video department, be it with MLB through each game.”
The Astros were also fined $5 million, a penalty Clevinger found insulting, and he’s sorry Fiers has been cast as a villain by some for talking about his former team.
“What’s he going to do, while he’s wearing their colors going into the playoffs?” Clevinger said. ”He’s got to speak out now. He’s going to have to do it after. It doesn’t matter when he spoke out. It’s the fact that he did it. It had to come to light.”
Clevinger didn’t start against the Astros last season, but said during an outing against them in 2018 that he began to wonder if something was amiss.
The 29-year-old said he threw a 95 mph inside fastball to Houston outfielder Tony Kemp, who pulled it down the line for a hit.
“Not that he’s not a good ballplayer, but Tony Kemp’s not the best fastball, high-ball, two-strike hitter,” Clevinger said. “Let alone, pulling it down the line at 95 mph. I knew something was up that game. I had my stuff, but I was fighting for every out I had to get. I knew something was different.”
The Indians were swept by Houston in the 2018 AL Division Series, but manager Terry Francona isn’t making any excuses about what happened. The Astros beat Cleveland fair and square, he said.
“You can beat as many trash cans as you want,” Francona said. “I think we had two hits off of (Gerrit) Cole and three off of (Justin) Verlander. That wasn’t because of trash cans.”