Clevinger Eyeing Early Return

Nathan Grimm

How long will Mike Clevinger be sidelined?

Well, it depends on who you ask.

Clevinger, who underwent surgery on Friday to repair a partially torn left medial meniscus, was given a six-to-eight week timeline for a return to the team's rotation. But the right-hander expressed hope shortly after the operation that he might beat that timetable.

“I’ve heard of guys coming back in a month’s time,” Clevinger said upon arriving at Indians camp Saturday afternoon. “I don’t think it’s out of the question.”

If there's a silver lining it's that the injury happened in the first few days of spring training, giving him a month-plus before regular season games even begin. Even so, Clevinger will have to ramp up without the benefit of Cactus League games to use to round into form.

If there's another silver lining, it's that we've seen Clevinger return value in a limited sample as recently as last season. After sustaining a Teres major muscle strain in his upper back, the 29-year-old missed more than two months but came back strong to finish with a 13-4 record, 2.71 ERA and 169 strikeouts in 126 innings overall.

The big question for fantasy players is what to do with Clevinger given the injury. Even if he takes the full eight weeks to return, that puts him back with the Indians in mid- or late April. In theory, he could still hit 160 innings, barring any setbacks or other ailments.

Given the pitching landscape, it's in turn hard to dock him too much. A 160-inning workload could still yield 200-plus strikeouts with a stellar ERA and WHIP, production that would pale in comparison to few fully healthy pitchers.

The right-hander should be dropped a spot or two in the rankings because of the late start and the possibility that he's never fully healthy in 2020 -- a very real proposition -- but don't let Clevinger fall too far on draft day. When he does return, it'll be with a vengeance.

Suarez Doing Drills

Clevinger isn't the only one hoping to beat expectations after an early-camp setback.

Eugenio Suarez, who's recovering from surgery to remove loose cartilage in his right shoulder after a swimming pool accident, is also hoping to be back for the start of the regular season and is making progress toward that goal. On Sunday -- a day before position players were set to report to Goodyear, Arizona for Reds spring training -- Suarez hit off a tee one-handed and fielded ground balls, neither of which involved use of his right arm or shoulder.

Reds manager David Bell has already expressed a belief that it's realistic Suarez could be ready for Opening Day despite the surgery taking place so late in the offseason, and nothing to this point has done anything to refute that theory. That he's already taking part in on-field activities before some of his teammates have even shown up is another good sign.

Suarez, of course, has become one of the game's premier power hitters in recent years and took it to a new level in 2019, bashing 49 homers in 159 games. Only Mike Trout has more homers than Suarez over the past two seasons, notching 84 to Suarez's 83.

Like Clevinger, knocking the 28-year-old Suarez down your draft board because of the shoulder procedure might be ill-advised at this point. Until someone says otherwise, the third baseman should be back in the fold in the first few weeks of the regular season, if not sooner.

That's plenty of time to hit dingers for the following five-plus months.

Shoulder Irritation Sidelines Hamels

The outlook is less rosy for an NL East veteran.

Cole Hamels irritated his left shoulder during offseason workouts and won't be cleared to resume throwing at least until after his check up in three weeks. The Braves have already made it clear they don't expect him to be ready for the start of the season, but a better timeline has yet to be established.

“I think we’ll see him at some point this week,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said Sunday. “Reports are good. (Team trainer) George (Poulis) has been talking to him. I think it’s going exactly how they’d planned, so that’s good news.

“He’ll be here sooner than later just to get him acclimated. A lot of guys know him already, they’ve been around him. It’ll be good to get him in camp, get him around.”

The Braves were a nice landing spot for the veteran southpaw this winter when they inked him to a one-year, $18 million contract. Hamels' days as one of the game's best pitchers are gone but he's posted sub-4 ERAs in each of the past two seasons despite turning 36 this past December.

The Braves and fantasy players had hopes of a similarly useful season in 2020, but the irritation -- on the heels of left shoulder fatigue that bothered him last September -- casts doubt on how effective he might be this year. Shoulder injuries are troubling for any pitcher, let alone one with the kind of miles Hamels has on his.

The issues mean he'll certainly come at a discount on draft day, but unlike with Clevinger and Suarez, the risk might still outweigh the reward for fantasy players. Bold bargain hunters can still get a good deal on the veteran, but the downside is obvious. Proceed with caution.

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American League Quick Hits: Chris Sale (elbow, illness) said he has recuperated from his bout with pneumonia and also reported that his elbow feels "good, really good." Sale has begun participating in on-field exercises and will throw off a mound on Monday. He got a late start in camp after battling the flu and pneumonia. His 2019 season ended in mid-August when he was shut down after experiencing pain in his left elbow. He then received a platelet-rich plasma injection in the elbow. Sale said he threw about a half-dozen times over the winter. He remains one of the best pitchers in the game but there is quite a bit of uncertainty over the health of his elbow. Fantasy owners with early drafts would be advised to hold off on drafting Sale in the early rounds until he proves he is healthy and effective during spring training games ... Xander Bogaerts is dealing with a sore ankle and will be on light duty for the next three days. It appears to be a minor concern at this point. The Red Sox shortstop is coming off a monster career season that witnessed him slash .309/.384/.555 with 33 home runs, 117 RBI, 110 runs scored and four stolen bases in 155 games. His .939 OPS was second only to Alex Bregman among all shortstops ... Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke revealed that Alex Verdugo's back injury is in fact a stress fracture. The Red Sox were aware of the injury prior to trading for him and they don't expect it to be a long-term concern. Verdugo will be limited in spring training and is very likely to begin the 2020 season on the injured list. The 23-year-old outfielder played in 106 games last year for the Dodgers, slashing .294/.342/.475 with 12 home runs and 44 RBI. He played his last game on August 4th and missed the rest of the season with oblique and back injuries ... Brad Peacock is dealing with a recurrence of nerve damage in his neck. Peacock is still throwing, but only on flat ground at 90 feet. It's unclear when he'll be cleared to begin mound work. If the neck issue becomes an ongoing thing for Peacock throughout spring training, the final spot in the Astros' starting rotation will likely go to Josh James, Austin Pruitt, or Framber Valdez ... Indians signed OF Domingo Santana to a one-year, $1.5 million contract with a $5 million club option for 2021. The deal has been in the works for about a week and was made official on Friday morning after Santana arrived at Indians camp Thursday and took the necessary pre-signing physical. The 27-year-old outfielder rates poorly defensively, but he put up a decent .770 OPS (108 OPS+) with 21 home runs in 121 games last season with the Mariners and will bring some pop to the lower half of the lineup in Cleveland ... Rafael Devers will be absent from Red Sox camp for the next few days due to the birth of his second child. His late start to camp should not have any effect on his ability to prepare for the season. Devers had a huge breakout campaign last year, rocking a .311/.361/.555 slash line with 32 home runs, 115 RBI, 129 runs scored and eight stolen bases despite getting off to a very slow start. The 23-year-old third baseman is being taken as a late first round or early second round selection in my fantasy drafts so far this spring.