MINNEAPOLIS -- The Indians were asking a lot from the bullpen Saturday night, and that was before their game against the Twins dragged into extras.
With the back of its rotation loosening at the seams, Cleveland employed a bullpen-day approach at Target Field. There were positives throughout the evening, beginning with a promising performance from rookie Mike Clevinger, but it was not enough for the Indians to avoid a 2-1, 12-inning loss to the Twins with their 10th pitcher of the night on the mound.
"Everybody did great," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "You get into 11 or 12 innings on the road, when you give up a hit, you go home. But, we had a chance, even though we weren't scoring. We've won some of those games and we will in the future."
The Indians have used this patchwork plan the past two games in which the rotation's fifth spot has come up. At the moment, Cleveland has the benefit of a six-game cushion atop the American League Central, combined with an army of pitchers now with rosters expanded. That has helped curb some of the risk involved in adopting the all-hands-on-deck method lately.
The best-laid plans do not, however, account for unpredictable elements.
On Friday night, Indians starter Danny Salazar exited after only four innings due to right forearm tightness, and he is scheduled to fly back to Cleveland for further tests. Naturally, following a game that required five innings from the relief corps, Cleveland's tilt with the Twins went a dozen frames, including eight from the club's bullpen.
"Of course," Indians catcher Chris Gimenez said with a laugh. "You know what, though? A lot of credit to the bullpen today, on both sides. Clev did a tremendous job today and the rest of the bullpen followed him up awesome."
The outing from Clevinger was an important one, too.
After right-hander Josh Tomlin lost his grip on the No. 5 job in the rotation, Clevinger was asked to be the defacto starter for the past two bullpen days. Now, though, Clevinger and Tomlin will both stay in the rotation for now, while Salazar misses at least one turn. Against the Astros on Monday, Clevinger logged 43 pitches before giving way to the 'pen. Against the Twins, he built up to 62 pitches.
Clevinger surrendered a solo homer to Miguel Sano in the second, but then shifted into a more aggressive mode and looked sharp. The second time through the order, Minnesota went 0-for-7 against the rookie righty, who notched five strikeouts in that span.
"That was the best we've seen," Francona said. "He gave us four and the way he held his stuff. The first couple innings, there were some walks and some deeper counts, but I thought as he sped up his rhythm, you saw him be more aggressive and in the strike zone with good stuff. That was really good to see."
Clevinger, who will start again Wednesday or Thursday in Chicago, felt he could have lasted longer, too.
"I felt like I could have," Clevinger said. "But, I understand the building process."
The bullpen did not flinch until the 12th inning, when rookie Joseph Colon allowed a two-out single to Brian Dozier and then balked to allow the runner to advance to second. The righty then wanted to bury a 3-2 breaking ball to Joe Mauer, but he left the pitch up and the veteran Twins batter put it into the right-center gap for a walk-off single.
"The execution wasn't there on that one," Gimenez said. "Hopefully, we can all kind of bounce back tomorrow. We've got the right guy on the mound to do it. Hopefully, [ace Corey Kluber] can go nine innings and we won't have to worry about it."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.