Baseball can be a cruel, fickle mistress. You can be riding high one minute then, bam, you’re getting traded to the hinterlands never to be seen again. Baseball is also infamous for parallel stories. Take the tale of Garrett J. Cleavinger’s 2022 season, compared to Andre Jackson.
Cleavinger started his year in Los Angeles, as he made the team as one of the left-handers in the bullpen. Like Jackson, I happened to be in the ballpark on the night that Cleavinger made his season debut. However, unfortunately for Cleavinger, their seasons wildly diverged while wearing a Dodgers’ uniform.
Unlike Jackson, I was not able to actually see Cleavinger make his 2022 debut in Minneapolis on April 12, 2022. Cleavinger had the rotten luck to take the mound literally one pitch before the game was called for an almost 90-minute rain delay. Where I obtained plenty of art from Jackson’s season debut, no such art exists for Cleavinger. The cold, just-above-freezing rain and wind sent those of us who were dumb/foolheartedly/passionate/drunk/etc. enough to remain at Target Field scurrying for any respite from the weather. While I would normally never leave a Dodgers’ game early, the weather and the arrival of the last commuter train of the night forced my hand.
In fact, as far as I am able to tell, there is no art or photographic proof that Cleavinger pitched that night apart from watching the telecast.
Like Jackson, Cleavinger appeared in four games with the Dodgers. But again, Cleavinger’s stat line looks vastly different from Jackson’s, with only one clean outing. If you just look at the stats, you would see a left-handed reliever who had a mediocre tenure with the 2022 Dodgers and who was eventually optioned back to Oklahoma City and traded to Tampa Bay on August 1 to clear a spot on the 40-man roster.
- April 12 at Twins: ⅔ IP, 2 H, 1 R (1 ER), 1 BB, 1 K
- April 24 at Padres: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 1 K
- May 14 vs. Phillies: 1 IP, 2 K
- July 26 vs. Nationals: 1⅔ IP, 3 H, 6 R (4 ER), 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HR, 1 HBP
With the Rays, Cleavinger clearly figured something out because in 13 appearances and with over quadruple the innings (18⅔ innings), he had given up the same amount of runs and struck out three and a half times as many people (25 versus 7).
But if you dig a little deeper, I would argue that Cleavinger was defeated by simple misfortune. As I previously stated, Cleavinger was on the mound when the rain came in the bottom of the eighth inning and literally one pitch. After the rain delay, the Dodgers sent Cleavinger back to the mound. I initially thought that the three-batter minimum rule would apply, but the Twins broadcast was incredulous that Cleavinger was back on the mound after the lengthy rain delay, commenting that Cleavinger was seen at field level half an hour before the rain delay ended.
Pursuant to the rules: in an effort to reduce the number of pitching changes and, in turn, cut down the average time per game, MLB instituted a rule change that requires pitchers to either face a minimum of three batters in an appearance or pitch to the end of a half-inning, with exceptions for injuries and illnesses. No further definition was given. In any event, Cleavinger was wild but he wasn’t bad per se. The Twins were BABIP-ing him to death hitting pitches that were at least three inches inside into play.
Ultimately, Evan Phillips was called in to restore order in the bottom of the eighth, after a run scored, and the game quickly ended in short order with no harm done.
The most Cleavinger-like outing of the year occurred on July 26 against the Nationals at home. The Dodgers had called Cleavinger up that day and by his own admission, he had gotten to the ballpark about two hours before game time. He was tasked to protect a one-run lead in the top of the eighth inning — on a night four of LA’s eight relievers were unavailable — which began with Josh Bell. On the very first pitch, Cleavinger induced a weak ground ball to second base, which was cleanly fielded by Gavin Lux.
What should have been an easy first-pitch out turned into an error and a runner on first. Cleavinger preserved and struck out both Nelson Cruz and Keibert Ruiz. Cleavinger would have gotten out of the inning unscathed but he hung a curveball just off the plate to Luis Garcia.
Just like that, the Dodgers were down a run, and the wheels fell off for Cleavinger who was sent back out for the ninth. Six batters later, a one-run deficit ballooned to four, which would grow to five as Phil Bickford was summoned to restore order. The Dodgers would lose the game and the series to the then-Juan Soto-led Washington Nationals.
After the game, Cleavinger was interviewed about his outing. I do not think that anyone would fault Cleavinger for being the least bit annoyed at any of the above circumstances. He handled himself like a true professional and expressed disappointment that he could not perform to the level of the team.
After this game, Cleavinger was optioned to Oklahoma City and on August 1, he was traded to Tampa Bay for 18-year outfielder German Tapia. Cleavinger made Tampa Bay’s postseason roster and pitched in Games 1 and 2 of the American League wild card series. He pitched a combined 2⅓ innings with a single hit allowed and six strikeouts.
Stats: 0-1, 10.38 ERA, 4⅓ IP, 3 BB, 7 K with Dodgers
Game of the year
While wearing a Dodger uniform, by definition, that would be his appearance against the Phillies on May 14 where he had a scoreless frame and struck out two.
Overall, it would likely be September 10 against the Yankees in New York where he went two scoreless, perfect innings striking out four.
Cleavinger has one year, 60 days of major league service time. He currently is on the Rays’ 40-man roster and is out of options.