ANAHEIM -- After getting roughed up in his previous outing, rookie right-hander Zach Plesac was certain that he and the Tribe would “come back strong.”
Plesac did just that by turning in his first career complete game, a four-hit shutout against the Angels on Tuesday night at Angel Stadium as the Indians took the middle game of the series, 8-0. He became the first Indians rookie to throw a shutout since 2006, when Jeremy Sowers did it in back-to-back starts.
The Twins and A’s both won on Tuesday, meaning the Indians remain five games back of first place in the American League Central and a half-game out of the second AL Wild Card spot.
Tuesday was a welcome change of pace for Plesac, who had a 6.39 ERA over his last five starts. It marked his first scoreless outing in more than a month, and his first time pitching into the seventh since July 26. For Plesac, the key to getting right was throwing his curveball for strikes.
“That’s the pitch, the past few starts, I’d really been struggling to get in the zone,” said Plesac, who struck out five and threw 78 of his career-high 114 pitches for strikes. “That opened everything up, because then vs. lefties, I had a breaking pitch and a changeup to work with, and righties were seeing that kind of slider, could be a curveball.”
While Plesac said he didn’t change anything in his preparation for Tuesday’s game, manager Terry Francona saw a more effective application of improvements made during side sessions.
“His breaking ball was better, I think, because he was able to slow down in his delivery and take it from the bullpen to the game,” said Francona. “He’s been doing a really good job working on it, but he took it to the game tonight, and it paid dividends.”
The most strenuous inning for Plesac was the first, when he allowed a hit and a walk and threw 20 pitches. From there, Plesac was more efficient, averaging 11 pitches per frame from the second through the eighth. Because of that, he was able to convince his manager to let him go back out in the ninth to finish what he’d started.
“After the eighth, I think Tito [Francona] really planned on getting me out of there, just looking forward -- we had a lead and a fresh bullpen,” said Plesac. “He was just looking out for the future. I told him, ‘I feel good,’ and I told him I wanted the ninth. I talked to [pitching coach Carl Willis] and he OK’d it, and I got out there and just executed us home.”
The right-hander’s performance was boosted by homers from Jordan Luplow and Francisco Lindor -- his 30th of the season. Lindor wasn’t surprised by Plesac’s dominating effort, noting a maturity beyond the 24-year-old’s experience level.
“He doesn’t act like a rookie,” said Lindor. “He goes out there and performs every single time. He has a lot of confidence, and he doesn’t seem like a rookie. It seems like he’s been around for a long time.”
That maturity was on full display in Plesac not allowing himself to simply be satisfied with his fine performance, but rather using it as a jumping-off point to continue refining his craft.
“I’m just going to continue to get better, and just work and build off that,” said Plesac. “There’s some things that I can still get better at from that game, and I’ll look back at film before the next week.”