Chicago White Sox bring Mike Clevinger up from Triple A to start Monday’s game — and he gave up 4 runs on 6 hits

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Mike Clevinger said Monday was a long time coming.

“Happy to see the boys and it was really cool to get in here and feel the energy in the clubhouse, to see familiar faces, see (manager) Pedro (Grifol), see (general manager Chris Getz),” Clevinger said. “I’m just ready to get back to work and get in the groove.”

That groove wasn’t quite there in his first start of the season. Clevinger lasted just two-plus innings, allowing three earned runs on six hits in an 8-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in front of 12,042 at Tropicana Field.

The right-hander had command issues, finishing with four walks. He threw 54 pitches, 31 of which were strikes.

“Didn’t control the zone,” Clevinger said. “The stuff was really good for the progression I’m at but I have to do a better job getting strike one, controlling those counts and better offspeed in better spots early on.”

Clevinger was one of the more effective pitchers for the Sox last season, going 9-9 with a 3.77 ERA and 110 strikeouts in 24 starts. He led Sox starters in wins and ERA.

Clevinger had declined a $12 million mutual option in November, but the Sox signed him to a one-year, $3 million deal made official on April 4.

“Getz and Pedro’s belief in wanting me back, that goes a long way with me,” Clevinger said of the return to the Sox. “Last year wasn’t what we wanted. We went through a lot. We had some bad times, we had some good relationships and saw something we could maybe try to turn it around here.

“That was a different offseason. Everything happens for a reason. I lost my father this offseason and if I was in Arizona I wouldn’t have been able to make it back for the day before. So I feel like everything was kind of silver lining. I got to drive up to Jacksonville and see him for a few hours the day before of the passing. So everything has a reason.”

The 33-year-old had been with Triple-A Charlotte since April 25. He started two games for the Knights, giving up three runs with seven strikeouts and three walks in 7 1/3 innings.

“It’s his first outing — it’s tough to do what he did, sign late, speed it up,” Grifol said. “There’s a reason there’s a spring training. We needed him here, he felt good, he looked good. But he had to work in that first inning a ton. He had a couple of walks in that first inning, got out of it. The second inning he also had to work. He had a lot of traffic. At that point, your first outing, that’s a lot of work. We needed a clean inning somewhere and we just didn’t get it.”

Clevinger threw 24 pitches (13 strikes) in the first inning. He issued two walks but didn’t allow a run.

The Rays scored three runs in the second. With no outs and a runner on first, José Caballero bunted back to Clevinger. The pitcher pivoted and threw to second, but Nicky Lopez couldn’t hold on to the ball. Along with the fielder’s choice, Lopez was charged with an error.

A walk loaded the bases and Jonny DeLuca followed with a two-run single. The third run scored on a fielder’s choice.

Tommy Pham hit a two-run home run for the Sox in the third, and nearly caught Amed Rosario’s long fly to deep center in the bottom of the inning. Rosario raced to third for a triple. Harold Ramírez singled through a drawn-in infield to make it 4-2.

Clevinger walked the next batter and was out of the game.

“The gryro slider, the velo is a little down on it,” Clevinger said. “The velo was down on the sweeper, too. It’s just finding my groove with those pitches. The fastball played really well tonight, happy with the four seam. Just getting those pieces together. Four seam, sweeper, gyro, kind of put it together.”

Grifol is confident Clevinger will do just that.

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“His stuff was just a tad down, but good,” Grifol said. “I’ve seen him pitch like that as well. But I just think he’s in the building process. Just got to go through it. There’s always going to be a first time toeing the rubber in every season. And today is his. He’s just got to have a good four days and bounce back and get after it again, like he will.”

In Monday’s corresponding move to adding Clevinger, the Sox placed reliever Dominic Leone on the 15-day injured list with lower back tightness. The IL stint is retroactive to Sunday.

Leone is 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA, three holds and 14 strikeouts in 17 relief appearances this season.

The training staff checked on Leone and he exited the game after issuing a leadoff walk in the eighth inning Saturday against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

“He has some back tightness, we just had to give it a chance to get out of there,” Grifol said before the game. “He’s going to be fine.

“It’s something he just needed a little bit of a break from and get to a point where it’s completely gone and be ready to go to do what he does, which is give us a lot of work. He works a lot, so it’s important for him to be completely healthy.”