Plesac strong for 7 as Tribe takes share of 1st

Cleveland leans on rotation, just enough offense to win 9 of last 12

September 8th, 2020

CLEVELAND -- The Indians’ offense just needs to push at least three runs across the plate each time it takes the field and let the pitching staff handle the rest -- a recipe that’s worked for them all but two times this season.

Cleveland’s simplistic method held true again on Monday after a strong seven-inning performance by that lifted the Tribe to a 5-2 victory over the Royals at Progressive Field. The win moved the Indians into a share of first place in the American League Central with the White Sox, who were off Monday.

“Super impressive,” Indians temporary manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said of Plesac. “He throws a lot of strikes ... his tempo is always good, and he managed to come back in counts. When you don’t walk people and you have a good separation of your pitches, that’s a good recipe right there. And he’s looking good.”

There were concerns that Plesac would be a little rusty when he first rejoined the team after a three-week break due to violating team protocols, but a one-run, six-inning outing indicated that he stayed sharp during his stint in Lake County. Now, he’s made it more than clear that his stuff was not affected during his time off.

“I think he’s the same guy,” Alomar said. “Same kid with more discipline. He’s the same pitcher. He’s always been a motivated kid. He goes to the mound to win and to compete. I didn’t see any change prior or after. He seemed to me like the same pitcher.”

In his second outing since rejoining the club, Plesac gave up one run (solo homer) on seven hits with four strikeouts in seven frames. Entering Monday, the 25-year-old had the second lowest ERA (1.33, which dropped to 1.32 after this start) in the Majors among pitchers with at least 25 innings this season. The only hurler with a lower ERA is teammate (1.25). And along with Plesac’s 34 strikeouts in 34 innings this year, he’s permitted just two walks.

“I think just consistency with my delivery has helped,” Plesac said. “A good game plan has helped. And really just mentally, having the attitude that I’m trying to pitch as deep as I can into games. The only way that’s gonna happen is if I pound the zone and mix speeds, just really be aggressive. Make those guys make a good swing on an executed pitch and let the defense go to work.”

As long as the pitching staff is backed by at least three runs, the Indians have been set up for success. The Tribe has now gone 21-2 in games in which they have scored three or more runs, thanks to the best rotation and third-best bullpen in the Majors based on ERA entering Monday night.

The Tribe has also won nine of its last 12 games. While the offense has started to show more signs of life during that stretch (58 runs scored), the starting pitching has been lights-out, posting a 2.19 ERA (70 innings with 17 earned runs, including a five-run outing by Aaron Civale) with 76 strikeouts in that span.

“It’s incredible,” Plesac said. “It’s crazy to see, you always know in the back of your head how good we have our rotation, how good these guys are, and then you get to see when they put those plays into action during the season and just see us on top of all the starting rotations in the big leagues, is awesome. We work diligently. We all help each other. It’s a superb group of guys. … It’s just exciting.”

It’s only going to get more exciting over the next few weeks. The Indians have just 19 games remaining in the regular season and are preparing for a heated three-team race down the stretch. Although the offense is heating up (and the team hopes José Ramírez’s thumb injury that forced him to exit from Monday’s game isn’t too serious), the Tribe will still lean heavily on its rotation until the finish line.

“Our division got stronger,” Alomar said. “This year, so far, it's probably one of the strongest. We don't tend to look at the standings, we just gotta continue playing good baseball, winning baseball games, and hopefully we can be in the top eight. But it's going to be a grind to the end.”