KANSAS CITY -- If there’s one thing Zach Plesac wanted to prove this season, it’s that he’s a fighter.
His start in the Indians’ 10-5 loss to the Royals on Wednesday nearly summed up his entire season. As he walked off the mound after a 22-pitch first inning that was highlighted with a three-run homer by Salvador Perez, he saw reliever Bryan Shaw starting to stretch out in the bullpen.
“I was like, ‘I got some work to do,’” Plesac said. “Sometimes you can kind of flow into the game and you find your rhythm and sometimes you get put into different situations. Definitely not the situation I wanted to be put in early but we grinded for sure.”
The grind is something the 26-year-old right-hander is starting to master. Despite being shaky through his first two innings, he figured out a way to settle in and get through six frames, allowing five runs (all in the first two innings) on seven hits with three walks and two strikeouts.
“I learned a little bit more about him, that under some adversity early he kind of finds a way to weather the storm,” Indians acting manager DeMarlo Hale said, “and he did tonight.”
“I’m a fighter, you know?” Plesac said. “This whole season has been one of those where you have to be a fighter. We’ve gone through a lot as a team. I’ve gone through a lot personally. It was one of those games where it was another situation where I had to grind through it.”
The year has been one long battle for Plesac, who never truly found his grooves that he enjoyed the last two years. He posted a 4.14 ERA through his first 10 starts before he landed on the injured list with a broken thumb. He then had to navigate the rehab process and find a way to get back into a rotation that desperately needed any form of leadership. But since he returned on July 8, he could never find his consistency. And for the first time in his career, Plesac suffered a loss against the Royals.
Plesac certainly couldn’t stay perfect against the Royals forever, considering he had been 6-0 with a 1.99 ERA in his first eight career starts against Kansas City entering Wednesday night’s contest. But these struggles haven’t continued to occur since his return, pitching to a 5.04 ERA in 15 starts in that span.
“We don’t like to see so much of the ups and downs and the inconsistency,” Hale said, “but when they do rear their head, you learn a little bit about the pitcher and the player as how he’s gonna handle it, how he’s gonna maneuver his way through it and he’s shown me that.”
Plesac knows the start to his career has been unconventional, beginning with a whirlwind of a rookie campaign in 2019, an unprecedented, shortened season in 2020 and now transitioning back to a 162-game season in ‘21.
“I mean there’s been different chapters every year,” Plesac. “There’s been a different situation how I’m being approached to what I’m doing. I think it’s just a lot of growth. I feel blessed to be in a position to be able to go through that.”
With growth comes a lot of learning -- something Plesac believes he’s done plenty of over the last three years. And even though the season is close to its end, the right-hander thinks he picked up one last lesson over the previous few days with assistant pitching coach Ruben Niebla.
In the last two innings of Wednesday’s outing, Plesac watched his four-seamer velocity hit 95 mph or higher five different times. And for a pitcher who already has a season full of innings under his belt and had averaged 92.8 mph on the offering entering his final start of the year, this can only be an optimistic glimpse into what could be coming out of Plesac in 2022.
“I think if we’d keep going right now with starts moving forward, my velo would be exactly what it was in the back half of that game because I feel like this last week, me and Ruben made a good adjustment,” Plesac said. “It’s promising. I knew it was in there. I know I have that. So, it’s just definitely the foundation of the work towards this offseason to continue to build off of.”