CLEVELAND -- When both Mike Clevinger and Corey Kluber landed on the injured list, Adam Plutko would typically have been the first call to Triple-A to fill one of the vacancies. Instead, he was in Arizona rehabbing a right forearm strain, leaving the team to find other options until he was back to full strength.
On Saturday, he showed his club he was well worth the wait.
In the third game of the four-game set against Baltimore at Progressive Field, the Indians walked away with a 4-1 victory as Plutko held the Orioles to a career-low one hit -- a solo homer by Trey Mancini in the fourth -- through six frames. The 27-year-old right-hander allowed two walks and struck out four.
“I thought he pitched his [butt] off,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He used all his pitches. He slowed them up enough with his changeup, commanded his fastball. There were some balls that were hit fairly deep that fortunately stayed in the ballpark, but I thought he really pitched well. We thought 80 [pitches] was about the right [limit] and that’s kinda right where he got. But to do it in six innings was very impressive.”
“Plutko had a really good game today,” Mancini said. “I’ve been facing him since he was in college back in 2013. Guy knows how to pitch. He always has an idea of what he’s doing out there. He’s a competitor and he hit his spots really well today. Especially impressive that it was his first game back off the [IL]. You’ve got to tip your cap. He threw a great game out there. He knows what he’s doing.”
After Plutko shut down the Orioles’ offense, the bullpen followed suit, tossing three hitless innings, including a four-out appearance by Brad Hand to earn his 12th save of the year. He has converted all 12 save opportunities he’s had this season. The combined one-hit outing was the fewest hits the Indians have allowed since May 7, 2017.
“It's always exciting to be out there on a Major League mound, whether it's your first time back in a while or it's your 12th consecutive game out there,” Plutko said. “It helps when you get some good plays behind you.”
Earning a spot
After his outing on Saturday, it’s safe to say Plutko has earned a second big league start, but with Clevinger making headway in his rehab process, the team will soon have to choose whether Jefry Rodriguez or Plutko will stay as the fifth man in the rotation. But Plutko isn’t putting pressure on himself.
“I feel like I do belong here but at the end of the day, it's one outing,” Plutko said. “If you're a starter in the big leagues, you need to do it 34 times, not just once. That's what separates Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, all the guys in our rotation from everybody else. They do it 34 times a year.”
After getting optioned to Triple-A at the end of Spring Training, Plutko stayed behind in Goodyear, Ariz., missing Columbus’ first 30 games to rehab a right forearm sprain. He joined the Clippers on May 7 and had a shaky first start, but bounced back in his second outing, allowing one run on two hits through five innings. That dominance carried over to Progressive Field.
“I didn't feel like I was clicking my mechanics correctly in Spring Training,” Plutko said. “The two weeks almost gave me some time to figure that back out. As soon as I picked up a baseball again, I started feeling really good, Not just the forearm, but my entire body and how I was throwing a baseball. I think that's what you saw today.”
While the pitching staff was carrying its weight, Jordan Luplow settled in as the Tribe’s cleanup hitter for the second time this season, launching his fifth homer of the year. In eight at-bats in the fourth spot in the order, Luplow has blasted three home runs, hitting .375. Luplow is quickly emerging as one of Cleveland’s top sluggers, as he’s hit five dingers in the last 10 games, trailing just Carlos Santana -- who hit one in the eighth inning Saturday -- and Leonys Martin.
“More confidence,” Francona said of the difference in Luplow since being recalled from Triple-A on April 28. “I think the first time he was kinda walking on eggshells. It’s easy to say not to, but ... I don’t think the [Triple-A] at-bats hurt him one bit. I know he didn’t want to go down. He was mad, but he played for a week, 10 days, got some consistent at-bats, and he’s been a different hitter.”
Clippard celebrates 10 years in Majors
On top of outfielder Oscar Mercado recording his first hit, the Indians had another reason to celebrate on Saturday. When reliever Tyler Clippard walked into the clubhouse prior to the game, he found a bottle of champagne at his locker with signatures from his teammates to honor his 10-year big league anniversary.
“It’s special, man,” Clippard said. “Not too many people get to this place. It’s hard to believe. A lot of hard work and a lot of people involved in getting to this point. I mean for everybody in baseball the 10-year mark is that mark, everybody talks about it. It’s kind of surreal. I’m trying to take it all in, enjoy the day. My teammates have been great today and it’s just been a special kind of time of reflection and I’m very blessed to be in this position.
“It did go fast and again, in my mind I feel like I’ve got a lot of good baseball ahead of me. So I’m just going to take it day by day and see how long I can do it.”