Plutko aims to earn roster spot, improve in '19

February 24th, 2019

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- When a team has a rotation that consists of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber, it’s easy to see how a pitcher like  could get lost in the shuffle. But Plutko is ready to prove he's more than a starter.

Plutko made 12 starts for the Tribe last season, but also made five relief appearances. It’s clear he will not be in Cleveland’s rotation when Spring Training concludes in late March, but the 27-year-old is willing to take the ball in any situation in order to make the team.

”I’ll take the ball whenever they need me to,” Plutko said. “I’ve said that, I think, from Day One on May 3 [last year] when I got up the first time. I’ll take the ball any way I possibly can. I don’t want to give it up. I just want to keep the ball in my hand.”

In the one-on-one meetings that Indians manager Terry Francona has with each of his players at the beginning of Spring Training, his message to Plutko, who knows there are limited spots on the roster, was to just be himself.

”Honestly, this is exactly what Tito said," Plutko said. "‘Be the best version of you that you can possibly be. The rest will take care of itself. If there’s room, there’s room. If there’s not, there’s not. But there’s no reason to worry about it.'"

After recovering from hip surgery during the 2017-18 offseason, Plutko wanted to take full advantage of this past winter to work on his mechanics and to get stronger to improve his chance of earning a bullpen spot.

“I worked on some pitch-shape stuff," Plutko said. "I know Trevor Bauer’s kind of made that famous, but I did a little tweaking, minor tweaks, to it just to make everything kind of look like a fastball longer and kind of go their separate directions as far as offspeed goes.

”I didn’t have a full offseason to lift weights last offseason, so I wanted to make sure I was good and ready and strong going into this season. I know last year, my fastball velocity at the end kind of dipped off because I lost that strength right at the end. So this year, I’m trying to carry that all the way through.”

It’s early in spring, but Plutko’s first outing on Saturday showed some positive signs of progression. He tossed two hitless innings in the Indians' Cactus League opener, a 3-3 tie with the Reds.

”He looked a little more aggressive in his delivery, in his load, which I knew he had been working on,” Francona said. “But to see him take it to the game, I thought, was good. He had good life on his fastball, and he threw strikes.”

In his rookie campaign last year, Plutko logged a 5.28 ERA and struck out 60 batters in 76 2/3 innings. But he said he learned a lot about himself from his first season in the big leagues and is hoping to follow in the same successful footsteps of his teammates.

”I mean, you look at what every single starter in this rotation has done from their first year to their second year, they’ve learned, they’ve grown into their second year,” Plutko said. “The mistakes they made, how to get better, took that into the offseason, look at literally every single starter in our rotation’s numbers in their first and second seasons, their second season is always better. And it’s not by chance, it’s because they worked on it, they got better in the offseason, they knew what they needed to fix.”