Plutko goes 7 strong, but Tribe's streak ends at 6

Righty yields costly 1st-inning homer as Indians' bats tally 3 hits

July 21st, 2019

CLEVELAND -- The night was setting up for a high-scoring game. Indians starter threw a 91.1-mph fastball high out of the zone for the first pitch of Saturday’s contest, as the thermostat read 91 degrees at Progressive Field.

The temperature was just as hot as the Tribe’s bats entering the middle game of the series against the Royals, but Plutko and Jakob Junis waged a pitching duel in a 1-0 loss that snapped the Indians’ win streak at six, in which they had hit .328 with 43 runs scored over that stretch.

“Yeah everybody was kind of freaking out about how hot it was gonna be,” Plutko said. “I don’t know if it’s like one of those things that, you know your friend hypes up a restaurant or something and then you go, and it’s not as good as you thought. Like same thing here. Everybody kind of hyped up how hot it was gonna be and I got out there and was like, ‘All right it’s warm,’ but it wasn’t out of control. A few ground balls definitely helped. Just tried to execute some pitches.”

Aside from one fastball to Hunter Dozier that was sent over the wall in right field, Plutko had a flawless night, allowing just that one run on two hits over a season-high seven innings. He retired 19 of the final 21 batters he faced.

“I felt like fastball command was pretty good,” Plutko said. “Offspeed was pretty good, changeup, made a few good ones to [Whit] Merrifield and Dozier, and obviously spun the ball well. I guess it’s no secret when you have good outings, generally you’re pretty locked in, and you obviously have really good defense behind you. So, that’s what I kind of saw today.”

But as well as Plutko pitched, he was outdueled by his mound opponent. Junis had struggled against the Tribe in the past, pitching to a 6.43 ERA in nine career appearances (eight starts), including his 7.94 ERA in two previous starts this season. But his recent hot streak on the mound continued on Saturday with six scoreless frames and seven strikeouts. It was just the second time in his Junis’ career that he posted three consecutive starts of at least six innings while allowing two-or-fewer runs.

“That’s the game of baseball,” Indians outfielder Greg Allen said. “It’s funny, you can take what you would think is a matchup in your advantage or even a team matchup in your advantage and sometimes, you know, that’s why you got to go out there and play all nine innings because you never know what could happen.”

The Indians were able to muster just three hits total -- two off Junis. Outside of a leadoff single by Francisco Lindor, an Allen double and a single by Jason Kipnis -- the club’s fewest amount of hits since May 17 -- the bats went cold, resulting in the Tribe being shut out for the first time since June 29 in Baltimore.

“Breaking ball,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Junis’ strong outing. “He led off most hitters with a breaking ball strike. He really slowed our bats down. It seemed like he could go to it whenever he wanted to. He’d elevate a fastball kinda for effect and then go right back to it, and kinda gave us fits.”

The loss was only the Indians' third in their last 15 games and the fifth in their last 24 contests against American League Central clubs. Despite the setback, the Tribe remained three games behind the first-place Twins, as a result of their 5-4 loss to the A’s on Saturday night.

“[Junis] threw well,” Allen said. “He made pitches when he had to, expanded the zone and kept us off-balance. So you have to tip your cap when that happens. Sometimes you have games like that. The offense as a whole, at least coming off this last homestand, overall, I think we played pretty well. We had good at-bats and competed. Again, [we’ll have] days like that. Looking forward to getting back after it tomorrow.”