Earlier this summer, Brad Stoll looked out onto the baseball field from the Falmouth Commodores’ dugout and saw Garrett Cleavinger, one of the Cape Cod League team’s relief pitchers, make his way toward the pitching mound for the first time.
Stoll, Lawrence High’s baseball coach, and Cleavinger, a left-handed pitcher, had appeared on the diamond wearing the same uniform and ball cap countless times before, but not since Cleavinger graduated from LHS in 2012 and went on to become a successful late-inning reliever at the University of Oregon as a freshman.
Stoll, in his fourth season as an assistant in Falmouth, Mass., said his heart began to race “like a nervous dad” as the player he knew as a toddler made his debut in a league associated with producing major-league baseball talent.
“It’s just a huge sense of pride to watch him trot out of the bullpen,” Stoll said.
Not surprisingly, it was Stoll, Falmouth’s third-base coach, who a year ago pitched Cleavinger to Commodores manager Jeff Trundy. That was before the former Lions starter earned Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America honors out of Oregon’s bullpen.
Cleavinger knew his high school coach would try to convince the Commodores to add him to the roster, but the 6-foot-1, 205-pound lefty never assumed a spot was his until one day after practice at Oregon a contract to play for Falmouth waited for him in his locker.
Once the Ducks’ season ended in the NCAA regionals, Cleavinger headed out to Falmouth, where he and his LHS coach have spent the summer contributing to the Commodores’ 24-17 record. Though Stoll coaches infielders and hitters, he and Cleavinger work the team’s camps and spend time talking baseball and life.
“He’s such a great guy,” Cleavinger said, “such a great coach.”
Their conversations meander from the pitcher’s outing the night before to what former Lions are up to or how each other’s family members are doing.
Some chats are more laid-back than others. Stoll said Cleavinger’s fastball has reached the low 90s, he typically displays a “nasty” slider, and some scouts the LHS coach spoke with consider him a pro prospect. However, three of the reliever’s 11 appearances haven’t gone the way he hoped. Cleavinger surrendered three walks, a hit and two runs in one inning against Hyannis on June 24; three hits, one walk and three runs in an inning against Cotuit on July 4; and three hits and four runs in one-third of an inning against Harwich on July 14.
Those outings in particular impacted his season stat line unfavorably, to the tune of an 0-2 record and a 6.75 ERA. Still, Cleavinger hasn’t allowed a run in five innings of work since then. On the season, he has 21 strikeouts in 12 innings, compared to 11 hits and nine walks after striking out three of the six batters he faced in a 13-1 Commodores victory Wednesday at Harwich.
At Oregon, Cleavinger went 9-0 with a 1.24 ERA in 37 appearances, with 57 strikeouts, 20 hits allowed and 24 walks in 432⁄3 innings. Enduring a lapse or two in the Cape Cod League, Stoll expects, will help the young pitcher improve.
“The higher levels that you climb in baseball, you realize you have to minimize your walks,” Stoll said. “They’re deadly.”
The Pac-12, Cleavinger pointed out, has good hitters, but the Cape Cod League has proven more challenging at times.
“Out here, it’s just you’ll get the best hitters from the best teams in one lineup. There’s so much more depth,” he said. “Going out and facing those guys and learning how to get hitters like those out is really valuable experience.”
Cleavinger has learned to slow himself down and not try to do too much, while remaining confident he can go out and retire Cape Cod hitters. The regular season ends Sunday (Falmouth has sealed a playoff spot).
“You stay yourself,” he said, “and you show up and you play every day,”
Stoll has enjoyed watching Cleavinger compete in a league that boasted 253 former players on MLB rosters in 2012, and Cleavinger appreciates the unique opportunity the two have at Falmouth.
“It definitely feels special that I get to come out here with somebody that I’ve known all my life,” Cleavinger said. “He has always been there for me.”