Plutko impresses again: 'He's stepped up'

Seemingly off to the 'pen in July, righty strikes out nine, a career best

August 28th, 2019

DETROIT -- Four weeks ago, was headed to the Cleveland bullpen. But then the Indians traded Trevor Bauer at the end of July, leaving an open spot in the rotation. Plutko was slotted back into the starting five, and the right-hander hasn’t disappointed since.

Plutko cruised through 5 2/3 innings on Tuesday night at Comerica Park, allowing one run on just three hits, throwing 107 pitches and leading the Indians to a 10-1 victory over the Tigers.

“He was awesome today, man,” catcher said. “He got that rising fastball, got a good changeup, we didn’t use that much of a breaking ball, but his cutter/slider thing, it was working all night long. He got confident throwing it 3-2 to a couple of guys. He was outstanding tonight.”

Plutko ran into some early trouble, giving up a double, RBI single and two walks before a mound visit from Indians pitching coach Carl Willis.

“Carl went out, we actually were getting [Hunter] Wood up to warm up, [then Plutko] gets the out,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “And then the second time through the order, I think he struck out seven guys. The second time through the order, [he] settled in and really did a great job.”

Plutko retired 12 batters in a row before Harold Castro’s single in the sixth, recording a career-high nine strikeouts on the night.

“Win -- more important to me,” Plutko said. “I’ll take a career high in wins every single day. Every single season, if my team makes the playoffs and I have a career high in wins, that's all I care about. So strikeouts: cool, love them, help the defense out a little bit. But winning ballgames is what I care about.”

Last month, Plutko was on the verge of becoming a relief option for the Tribe, as was coming back to take Plutko’s spot, making his first Major League start since 2017. But the Bauer trade that brought and to Cleveland created a need for Plutko, who has posted a 3.41 ERA in his last five starts.

Salazar ended up injuring his groin, landing him back on the injured list (prompting Aaron Civale to become a regular in the rotation) and Corey Kluber (fractured right forearm) would later suffer a setback in his rehab assignment by straining his left oblique. Just when it seemed like Plutko was getting squeezed out of a starting role, he’s quickly become an integral part of the rotation.

“He’s stepped up big time,” Perez said. “He’s filling in for some injured guys pretty well. He’s been so consistent. He’s commanding all of his pitches and he’s throwing the ball with a lot of confidence, so that helps, too. He’s done a really good job for us. Hopefully, he continues to do that.”

“[Willis] says it all the time, [Plutko is] really well prepared, always,” Francona said. “He’s not gonna beat himself. There will be times where, if he doesn’t locate, he’ll get hit. When he locates, he knows how to pitch. Again, you look up and he’s usually still in there around the sixth inning and we have a chance to win.”

Plutko’s dominance over Detroit in the series opener extended the story of the Tribe’s continued success against the Tigers. Cleveland has won 13 of 14 matchups (including 12 straight) with the last-place team in the American League Central this season. Over those 14 games, the Indians have outscored the Tigers 94-33 and a 10-run offensive outburst by the Indians certainly helped that 61-run differential.

Cleveland put up a three-spot in the top of the first on a Puig double and a homer, Reyes launched his fourth long ball in three games and Perez matched his home run total from the first five years of his career combined (21) with a solo shot in the seventh. Since the beginning of 2016, Cleveland has won 53 of 70 contests against Detroit (.757 win percentage), which is the best record for one team against a division opponent in that time.

“Well, every time you come in and face them, even though they don’t have a good record, those are the teams that you can’t take for granted,” Perez said. “They try to hurt you. They always play us well even though we’re 13-1 or whatever. Everyone came out with a lot of energy. Yesterday, we had a day off, we usually start slow, but it’s nice to have a great offensive game and hopefully we build on that and come get them [again] tomorrow.”