With less than a week until the regular season gets underway, the Indians still have to nail down how they’ll handle their starting rotation. They could go with a six-man rotation, but if they choose to stick with a five-man, Zach Plesac did his best on Saturday night to make sure that fifth spot goes to him.
In the Indians’ 5-3 victory over the Pirates at PNC Park in their first exhibition game of Summer Camp, Plesac tossed five frames and allowed two runs on six hits with six strikeouts. He held Pittsburgh scoreless through four innings before a double that went off the glove of left fielder Domingo Santana in the fifth set up Guillermo Heredia for a two-run single.
“I thought he was pretty good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said on a postgame Zoom call. “He made a couple mistakes and kind of paid for it, but his repertoire or his arsenal, it really looks like he’s maturing right in front of our eyes.
“I mean, we gave him a lot last year and he kind of answered the bell. Now he’s had time to go home, get stronger and work on his pitches, work on his delivery. And there’s a lot to like.”
Entering camp, the battle was between Aaron Civale, Plesac and Adam Plutko for the final two spots of the starting rotation. But since intrasquads began, Civale appears to have locked up the No. 4 spot. With Plutko and Plesac both slotted to pitch on the same day during camp, Plutko remained in Cleveland on Saturday to pitch in a simulated game while Plesac made the trip to Pittsburgh.
“I think [Plesac is] on a mission, and that’s to prove that he does belong in the big leagues. And he’s getting there,” Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said via Zoom. “His changeup was good, and he’s getting to where he needs to be.”
While Plesac has strung together more solid outings than Plutko has over the past two weeks, the Indians have also seen improvements in Plesac’s delivery since his rookie year last season.
Francona noted that the 25-year-old right-hander is more balanced over the rubber.
“I think just my rhythm is a lot better and my timing,” Plesac said via Zoom. “Last year, I was searching at times. I think this year, I have a much better understanding of what I want to do with my body and how I move and what it takes to execute a good pitch.
“I think just working this whole offseason and working with everyone we have now leading up to this point got me in a great position, and I feel really good.”
In his first start against players sporting a different uniform since Cactus League play in March, Plesac got to finally experience game-like adrenaline while also testing his top-notch pickoff move. Even after getting a late start to the season last year, beginning the season in Double-A, Plesac led the Majors in pickoffs with six in 21 starts. Though it doesn’t count in his 2020 stats, the righty already picked up his first one of the year, nabbing Colin Moran creeping a little too far off first base for the second out of the fourth inning.
“I was peeking over at [first baseman Carlos] Santana, and he was kind of giving me the head nod,” Plesac said. “I just waited for the dude to take one more step, and we got him.”
Francona has mentioned that the idea of having a six-man rotation isn’t off the table during the first week or two of the season while the rosters are expanded to 30 players. But if the team decides to stick to a five-man, trying to get the ball to Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger as many times as possible, Plesac still has one last week left to try to beat out Plutko for the final opening.
“I feel like my pitches are all game-ready and my confidence is there,” Plesac said. “So when it comes time to take the mound, I feel confident in my ability, and, physically, I feel ready to rock.”