NEW YORK -- Friday night was shaping up to be a positive stepping stone for Indians starter Zach Plesac, who has had a difficult time finding consistency this season. And then, things went awry in the seventh inning.
Plesac held the Yankees to two runs through six innings, keeping the Indians' quiet offense within striking distance. It would've marked the first time he tossed consecutive quality starts since the middle of May. Instead, he returned for the seventh, failed to record an out, allowed another run and left two runners on that scored on a homer off Nick Wittgren in Cleveland's 8-0 loss to New York at Yankee Stadium.
"Plesac looked great," Indians backstop Roberto Pérez said. "I thought he looked great. I thought he competed. I thought he [pounded] the strike zone. We were mixing it well tonight and then in the [seventh], the game got away, but I thought Plesac threw the ball well."
This has become a familiar storyline for the Indians this season. The team has been able to cruise through a handful of innings before one pitch or one frame causes the momentum to dramatically shift in the opponents' favor. And Friday's loss showed us three things Cleveland will need to keep in mind heading into the offseason.
This has become the storyline for Plesac this season. He's shown flashes of being the hurler he was the last two years at times throughout his starts, but he's been bogged down by two or three bad pitches, preventing him from reaching the same level of dominance he had grown used to.
Plesac not inconsistent, just unlucky
Plesac's 4.59 ERA is far from what anyone would've projected him to have in the middle of September. He's struggled to see consistent results since returning from the injured list in July and went 12 consecutive starts from May 13 until Aug. 25 allowing a homer. But as much as it seemed like he was slipping away from the dominance he displayed in his last two seasons, Plesac is confident that his numbers are more of a reflection of bad luck than bad pitching.
"I would say more so than none this year rather than the pitches getting away," Plesac said, "it's unfortunate events that happened that kind of lead to things not going my way. I'm trying to keep a good attitude as much as I can all the time."
Over his last five outings, Plesac has given a handful of optimistic signs that there is no reason to panic, owning a 3.64 ERA in that span, while tossing 19 innings without a homer before Joey Gallo snapped the streak in the second inning on Friday. And in the final weeks of the year, Plesac is looking to prove he's in a good spot heading into 2022.
"Nothing's gonna knock me down," Plesac said. "I think we're gonna continue to work. I'm gonna get better by this game and I'm gonna continue to improve as I get ready for my next start in five days."
The team probably needs new bullpen options
The Indians had gotten used to calling Nick Wittgren's name out of the bullpen in crucial situations since 2019. But this year, he hasn't been quite as consistent. He suffered four losses in August and has already surrendered three homers in just six innings this month. And with his second year of arbitration looming this offseason, the Indians may decide that it's time to take a look at some of the younger relievers in their system to take Wittgren's place in those high-leverage situations.
"When he's been good, he's been good," Indians acting manager DeMarlo Hale said of Wittgren. "It seems like it's one pitch. … I think you can look at the home runs. You don't want to throw the pitches there where they hit them, because they had some good swings."
Mejía may not be that answer
If the Indians are looking for a solution for their bullpen needs, J.C. Mejía may not be the best fit. Hale explained prior to the game that the team will need to determine if the traditional starter will be able to settle into a reliever role. One performance won't dictate his future, but Mejía struggled in his first relief outing after being in the rotation, giving up two homers in the eighth. But he still has three weeks left to prove that he can turn those results around.
"Maybe not try to complicate things using so many pitches," Hale said. "Be aggressive with your sinker-slider. Put the fastball in the zone and see how that plays."