Plesac shakes off rust in last start before playoffs

October 2nd, 2022

CLEVELAND -- This wasn’t supposed to be Zach Plesac’s best start of the season.

The Guardians knew going into Saturday’s 7-1 loss to the Royals at Progressive Field that Plesac’s time on the rubber was going to be limited. It marked his first start since Aug. 27, when he suffered a fractured right hand in a start in which he punched the mound out of frustration after he gave up a home run in Seattle.

Cleveland determined before his outing that the plan would be to move Plesac to the bullpen before the regular season ends on Wednesday. That meant Saturday was going to be used to allow him to prove to himself that he can pitch without pain and to give him the opportunity to dust off any rust that built up over the last few weeks. Plesac’s hand gave him no trouble, but he knew that his velocity could be a hurdle for him going into the outing.

“I knew coming into today my velo might be a little bit down just from the buildup,” Plesac said. “I think moving towards the fourth inning there, I looked up and saw 90, 91 [mph] or whatever and I was kind of trying to throw a little bit harder, I think, which sped my body up, got me ahead of myself, pulling my front side out a little bit, so that explains why the offspeeds were kind of left up.”

Both his heater and his changeup averaged 1.1 mph slower than his season average. He was pulled after 69 pitches when he ran into trouble in the fourth inning. Plesac allowed four runs (one earned) on seven hits, with one walk and one strikeout in 3 2/3 innings.

“It was a hard night to kind of evaluate,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “I don’t think it was him in midseason form. I don’t think it’s also fair to expect that to be the case. The good part of it was, he feels like he can pitch without thinking like he’s rehabbing. So, that’s really good.”

The outcome doesn’t impact the Guardians’ plans moving forward.

The Wild Card Series will be handled by Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie and (if necessary) Cal Quantrill. The Guardians determined that it was best to move Aaron Civale’s previous start up to Friday, allowing him to work the final game of the season on Wednesday since he won’t be needed in the first round of the playoffs. If the Guardians advance to the American League Division Series, Civale will be ready to start one of those games.

That leaves Plesac as the odd man out in the rotation. Since he’s healthy, the club thinks it’s best to move Plesac to the bullpen as a multi-inning option in the best-of-three playoff series, beginning next Friday at Progressive Field.

“I mean, I’m excited,” Plesac said. “I’m looking forward to it. I’m going to embrace whatever role I’m given moving toward the postseason.”

Plesac wasn’t his sharpest on Saturday, but he’s proven that he can pitch confidently without an injury hindering him. He made one rehab start with Triple-A Columbus last weekend, tossing five scoreless innings on 65 pitches. Plesac wasn’t nearly as dominant in 2021 as he was in ‘20, and his effectiveness has been shaky again this year, although he’s often been given little run support to work with. Before he missed four-plus weeks on the injured list, his last start on Aug. 27 marked his first win since June 5.

Despite those hiccups, the Guardians seem confident that moving Plesac to the bullpen can benefit both him and the team. And assuming all goes smoothly with his recovery from Saturday’s outing, Cleveland is expecting to get him into a game in relief on either Tuesday or Wednesday to get him some more innings before the postseason.

“We’re just going to do everything we can to win, and I’m going to do everything in my power to be as sharp as I can coming out of the bullpen,” Plesac said. “I think on Wednesday I’ll probably get a feel out of the ‘pen, so it’s not my first time come playoff time. But I’m super excited and looking forward to taking on a new challenge.”