CLEVELAND -- It is one thing to have belief in one’s skills, but is a completely different scenario when a pitcher takes the mound at the center of the diamond and is forced to work his way out of trouble in meaningful games.

Cleveland Indians starter Mike Clevinger learned this through experience over the last two years, and ended the 2017 season with plenty of confidence after posting a 5-1 record with a sterling 0.99 earned run average in September for a team that won its second straight American League Central Division Championship and posted an AL-record 22-game winning streak.

“I’ve kind of always felt that way, but it’s like the chicken or the egg conversation. Does confidence breed success or vice versa?” Clevinger said after a recent practice. “Last year, I always felt like I belonged, but I needed that success to show me.”

Clevinger finished his first full season at the Major League level with a 12-6 record and 3.11 ERA. Over 121.2 innings of work in 27 games, including 21 starts, Clevinger struck out 137 batters against 60 walks and allowed only 92 base hits.

“His stuff is plenty good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I think there’s times where he would walk people or fall behind in the count. I think his batting average or OPS when he was ahead in the count or behind in the count was where it fluctuated and was one of the biggest differences in the league.

“When he got ahead of guys, he put them away. When he got behind, he paid a price, and there were a few games like Baltimore where he walked like seven or eight guys and worked around it. That’s really hard to do, but his stuff is tremendous. He competes. He’s not scared.

“Sometimes, guys, they mature at different times as far as pitching, and I think we feel there’s a really good pitcher whether it’s a starter or reliever. Obviously, you want to check a guy as a starter first because if he can log 200 innings, it’s important.”

Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Mike Clevinger (52) fires to the plate against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning at Camelback Ranch.
Joe Camporeale

For his development, Clevinger credits the other Indians starters, including two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, 18-game winner Carlos Carrasco and 17-game winner Trevor Bauer.

“There’s Cy Young contenders in our whole rotation, which is tremendous for a young guy like me to just sit there and watch how they go about their work,” Clevinger said. “That’s not necessarily about what they’re doing, but how they’re doing it to get to where they’re ready every day. And that’s the biggest thing with being a starting pitcher, consistency.

“It’s a fun environment. It’s fun to show up at the ballpark, and that’s not the case everywhere you go. It’s not always fun to go to work, and this is a fun group to be around. It’s easy. You can put in work around here and there, some people don’t do the work, whatever the case may be, but the main component now is it’s fun to be around each other, and with talent, that’s going to take you far.”