CLEVELAND -- Before he even decided what his first pitch on Monday afternoon was going to be, Mike Clevinger had a big decision to make.
Sleeves or no sleeves?
"That was a big debate before I went out there," the Cleveland Indians starter said with a laugh. "Once I saw 31 [degrees] I was like, 'I'm gonna risk it. The sun's out.' It worked out well."
And then some.
Making his 2019 debut in the Indians' home opener, Clevinger put together arguably the best performance of career, tallying 7 innings, 1 hit, no runs and a career-best 12 strikeouts in Cleveland's 5-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox. Perhaps most importantly, the 28-year-old showcased the increased velocity he had been working to improve throughout the offseason, adding a new wrinkle for a pitcher who has already established himself as one of the Indians' most consistent arms.
"He was terrific," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I thought he was really good -- I mean really good. It's not easy to do anything in that weather. He was just out there letting it eat. He just looked really strong the entire game."
According to Clevinger, he wasn't even throwing his best stuff.
Although he's typically possessed above-average velocity since becoming a regular part of Cleveland's rotation in 2017, this season, the player nicknamed "Sunshine" is hoping to top out in the upper-90s. On Monday, Clevinger did that on occasion, but not as often as he planned on entering the opener.
"The 'velo' was not lower, but a tick down today than what it has been through spring," Clevinger said. "My last outing in spring, I averaged 96 and today it was just shy of 95. So cold weather did play a little bit of a factor -- but not much."
Fortunately for the Indians, the chilly atmosphere inside Progressive Field seemed to have a bigger impact on the White Sox bullpen, which walked in the game's winning runs with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth.
While Clevinger didn't earn the victory -- his own bullpen blew a 1-0 lead in the inning sandwiched between his exit and closer Brad Hand's entrance -- his impressive outing wasn't for naught. And given the current state of the Indians' lineup, Clevinger's career-best showing was one they could have hardly afforded to waste.
"It wasn’t all these flashy wins all the time," Clevinger said, drawing a comparison between Monday's victory and the 2016 Indians. "It was like grinding out to the eighth, ninth inning, losing a lead, coming back and that’s Tribe baseball. That’s how we’re going to win and I like it."