CLEVELAND -- For the first time since April 2019, the Indians were unable to defeat the Tigers.
The Tribe’s 20-game winning streak against Detroit came to a screeching halt on Friday night in a 10-5 loss at Progressive Field. The streak ended as the second longest against a single opponent in the Divisional Era (since 1969), trailing the Orioles’ 23-game winning streak against the Royals over ‘69-70.
“It doesn’t happen very often, clearly,” Indians starter Adam Plutko said. “They’re out there day to day, and I didn’t do my part. I was pretty poor all around. That’s what happens. They came out and they beat us tonight.”
Cleveland’s recipe for success this year has been simple: score at least three runs and let the starting pitching handle the rest. Friday’s loss marked the first time the Indians fell in a game in which they scored three or more runs, snapping their 12-0 record in those games. And it came on the night that Plutko gave up seven runs -- the first time a Cleveland starter has given up more than four earned runs in an outing this season.
The Indians entered the fourth inning with a 5-0 lead after a three-run second inning and a two-run homer by Franmil Reyes in the third. But after Plutko got the first out of the fourth, the rest of his inning went like this: walk, homer, hit by pitch, single, walk, single and grand slam -- which resulted in seven runs and an early end to his night.
“I don’t know,” Plutko said when asked what changed the second time through Detroit’s lineup. “They just strung some hits together, strung some quality at-bats together. I couldn’t stop it. That’s what happened.”
The right-hander faced the Tigers on Sunday at Comerica Park, and he was knocked out of the game after 2 2/3 innings, permitting three runs on six hits. When temporary manager Sandy Alomar Jr. was asked before the game whether the starting pitcher or the hitters benefit more from matching up just days ago, he said that the hitters do. Plutko proved it hours later.
“Yeah, they said their aggressiveness went up the second time around,” Plutko said. “I didn’t expand very well. [I] was in the zone a lot with advantage, and they put the ball in play.”
Plutko began the year in the bullpen, but he was called on to make a spot start in a doubleheader against the White Sox on July 28. He transitioned back into his role as a reliever and made one appearance before he had to be slotted back into the rotation to fill in for Mike Clevinger, who was optioned to the alternate training site with Zach Plesac for violating team protocols.
Since taking Clevinger’s spot on Aug. 11, Plutko has pitched to a 9.90 ERA, allowing 11 runs on 15 hits in 10 innings over three starts. The right-hander became a reliable fifth starter for the Indians in 2019 after injuries, illnesses and trades threw their rotation out of whack. However, his undefined role this year, floating back and forth from reliever to starter, seems to have made it difficult for him to settle in on the rubber.
“Today he was more aggressive in the zone, which was fine,” Alomar said, “but when he got way ahead in the count, he could have used expansion. He could have expanded a little bit more, and he couldn’t expand. … Tomorrow we have a young guy pitching and [Logan] Allen needs to be backing him up, so we tried to do the best we could pushing [Plutko] to go through five, but it didn’t happen. He was making mistakes.”
Plesac and Clevinger are able to be recalled to the big league team beginning on Monday. The Tribe has clarified that it isn’t sure when either of the righties could get the call back to Cleveland, but Plutko’s recent struggles may play a factor when the front office weighs its decision. However, should Plutko get another turn through the rotation -- which would be slated for Wednesday -- the righty at least saw some improvements in his pitches to build off of.
“I was actually really happy with my curveball,” Plutko said. “I mean overall, the movement and the velocity on my pitches were some of the best, really, of my Major League career. The other aspect of that that goes with it is execution, which was obviously quite poor tonight, especially in the fourth inning. But as far as curveball goes, made a little tweak on it in between outings, and the results were really good movement-wise. And the velocity, like I said, some of the best curveballs I’ve ever thrown.”
Every young player dreams of the day he makes his Major League debut. After a long road of injuries, it's finally Triston McKenzie's turn to take the big league rubber for the first time. With Clevinger and Plesac at the alternate training site, the Tribe needed a fifth starter for Saturday's game against the Tigers, and it turned to its No. 9 prospect, per MLB Pipeline. McKenzie hasn't pitched in a real game since Aug. 30, 2018, after missing all of the '19 season with upper back and pectoral strains. Now that he's locked in on his fastball and curveball command and has added a new slider to his repertoire, the 23-year-old will be able to return to game action in grand style. Lefty Matthew Boyd will get the ball for the Tigers. First pitch is slated for 7:10 p.m. ET, live on MLB.TV.