The first time Zach Plesac faced the White Sox this year, he was blatantly dejected and frustrated with himself after the shortest outing of his career, as he permitted six runs in just two-thirds of an inning. But fast forward to his third start against Chicago this year and Plesac’s performance prompted him to say, “I think I can really start taking this thing up and really take this to another level.”
In his redemption start against the White Sox, Plesac tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings with just three hits, six strikeouts and four walks in Cleveland’s 5-0 victory over Chicago on Sunday afternoon at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“Above all else, I thought he competed his rear end off,” manager Terry Francona said. “That's what really stuck out to me more than anything today.”
Plesac wasn’t thinking about his previous two starts against the White Sox this year in which he permitted 12 runs in 5 2/3 innings (19.06 ERA). The right-hander said his sole focus was on winning the rubber match of the three-game series.
“I had to win today,” Plesac said. “I wasn’t thinking about the last two starts. I was thinking about getting this team, putting them in a position to win this series. So, I mean it was big for me, big game for us altogether. I think it was a big win.”
Plesac already proved he had moved on from his two-start skid against the White Sox by going 7 2/3 frames against the Twins last time out, allowing three runs. Aside from it being his longest start of the year, the right-hander also saw his velocity back up in its normal range, averaging 94.0 mph against Minnesota. In his first four outings of the year (capped by the two starts against the White Sox), he averaged just 92.2 mph on his heater. On Sunday, his fastball averaged 94.2 mph, and all of his pitches jumped at least 1 mph more than his 2021 average velocities.
“The ball feels like it’s three ounces in my hand,” Plesac said. “I feel good. I feel confident with every pitch.”
He proved that confidence in the third inning when he ran into some trouble. With two outs, Plesac issued consecutive walks before hitting José Abreu to load the bases. In that moment he had two options: Revert back into the hurler he was the last two times he faced this team or prove that he was ready to shift into the next gear. And on three straight pitches, he struck out Jake Lamb to escape the jam.
“It’s about stepping off, taking a breath, locking back in and making a pitch,” Plesac said. “That’s all it came down to. I wish I had done it maybe a batter or two earlier, but when it was really time to get down and make a pitch, just slowed the game down to make sure it wasn’t gonna get too quick on me and I made three pitches in a row to get out of it.”
Plesac is getting immediate gratification after making some adjustments over the last week or two to his mechanics to get himself back on the right path, and he’s confident the results are only going to get better as he continues working.
“My changeup’s still got the action it had,” Plesac said, “my curveball is really coming along and got some really good depth. If we can start riding that heater from five to seven, I mean, shoot, we’ll be in a good spot.”
It was a statement start for Plesac, but it may have been a more crucial start for the team. With Logan Allen being shipped to the alternate training site on Wednesday along with Triston McKenzie’s two-inning start on Saturday, this was a much-needed performance out of a Cleveland starter -- even if it wasn’t the longest outing the team has gotten this season. Entering Sunday, Cleveland had lost six of its last 10 games with its rotation collectively going 2-5 with a 7.08 ERA in that span.
And if Plesac can continue the momentum he’s started to build over his last two outings, he’ll be able to help ace Shane Bieber make sure that the rotation doesn’t slip into a rut like that again moving forward.
“I’m working every day,” Plesac said. “I’m trying to make myself better any way I can. I think there’s little adjustments to make. I think there’s still more in the tank, man.”