Hentges struggles; rotation issues persist

May 18th, 2021

The one thing no one has been used to over the last few years: Cleveland's rotation struggling. And now, all eyes will move to Zach Plesac, who has been red-hot of late, to help pull the team out of the hole it’s dug itself.

Another short outing from a Cleveland starter -- this time, -- put the Indians in a deficit they could not overcome on Monday night at Angel Stadium. Hentges permitted six runs in just 1 2/3 innings as Cleveland lost 7-4 to the Angels, extending its losing streak to four games.

“I mean, it all came down to executing pitches, especially the fastball,” Hentges said. “I didn't do a very good job of that. Kind of from the get-go, I didn't adjust and it took me a while to start throwing the slider. It was just an adjustment that needed to be made earlier, and it wasn't.”

When a team’s bullpen has been as solid as the Indians’ has, it really just needs the rotation or the offense to be on to help secure a victory. But over the last four days, both have been ice cold. Despite the fact that the Indians put up four runs on the scoreboard -- suffering just their second loss of the season (18-2) when plating at least that many -- and recorded 11 hits, the offense has yet to master the art of getting the timely hit. In their last 26 at-bats with runners in scoring position, the Indians have gotten just one hit.

“When they brought in [Tony] Watson and he struck out the three guys he faced, that was a big turning point because we had a chance,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “They’re in a bullpen-ish game. I mean, their guy [Patrick Sandoval] ended up going into the fifth, but it was impressive. But if we can do some damage there, maybe we start to get some guys in the game quicker than they want. And we didn’t do anything.”

The Indians had been riding a hot streak entering their West Coast road trip, going 13-3 in a 16-game stretch through their series opener in Seattle on Thursday. The offense throughout that span was still inconsistent -- considering one of those losses came on a Wade Miley no-hitter -- but the pitching, both rotation and bullpen, was enough to consistently lead Cleveland to victories. What’s happened since then? The rotation has not quite been the same.

Over 162 games, peaks and valleys are inevitable. However, the Indians have somehow managed to avoid any lengthy pitching skids over the last few seasons, especially since Plesac and Aaron Civale were called up in 2019. So now, this group of young starters will have to find a way to turn the page and prevent a negative domino effect from ensuing.

During this four-game losing streak, Cleveland’s rotation has collectively posted a 9.87 ERA (19 earned runs, 17 1/3 frames). Entering Monday, the team’s starting crew ranked 15th in the Majors in ERA after placing first in '20 (3.17) and sixth in '19 (3.81). And for a lineup that was tied for 25th in MLB in runs scored (entering Monday), a struggling staff makes it very difficult to win.

The 26-year-old Plesac is the oldest starter the Indians have in their rotation. With the limited (but successful) experience he, Shane Bieber and Civale have all had over the last few years, the trio will need to be the rocks of the staff in order to right the ship. Meanwhile, rookies Triston McKenzie and Hentges, who have both struggled in the rotation, will attempt to find the balance of developing at the big league level without getting completely overwhelmed.

“I think, obviously, there's a lot of adjustments that need to be made,” Hentges said. “The hitters here are better. It just comes down to a day-to-day routine and how I can bounce back and learn from this experience, and kind of take that and move forward into the next four days and get back to work.”