CLEVELAND -- The Indians were confident that starter Zach Plesac would be able to bounce back from the shortest outing of his career in Chicago his previous time out. But after four days of looking into the analytics of the outing and after having a strong bullpen session, he didn’t see the results that he and the team were hoping for.
Plesac was charged with six earned runs for the second consecutive start, as the Indians suffered an 8-5 loss to the White Sox on Tuesday night at Progressive Field. It marked just the second time in his three-year career that Plesac yielded more than three runs in back-to-back starts.
In his previous outing, Plesac allowed six runs on seven hits in just two-thirds of an inning. Afterwards, he was not shy in expressing disappointment in himself, and he was determined to get some answers. Indians pitching coach Carl Willis said on Sunday that he and Plesac took a deeper look at his delivery and worked on his mindset over the past five days.
“I don't know that anyone can explain why,” Willis said on Sunday. “It wasn't like you saw it coming. Hopefully we've ironed things out and we'll see the Zach we're accustomed to seeing in his next start.”
Maybe he wasn’t the same Plesac from last season, but Cleveland is far from pressing the panic button. The Indians saw improvement in their 26-year-old right-hander, as Plesac’s velocity ticked back up, and he worked into the sixth inning before he ran into bigger trouble. The problem was that when he was hit, he was hit hard. Four of his heaters were put in play and none had an exit velocity lower than 100.8 mph.
“I think a couple heaters leaked over the plate and they’re an aggressive lineup, so they jumped on it,” Plesac said. “A couple mistakes with the offspeed. They didn’t miss, so I have to tip my cap to them.”
The unexpected emergence of Plesac and Aaron Civale in 2019 helped Cleveland’s rotation stay dominant despite losing Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco due to injuries or trades for extended stretches throughout the season. It was Plesac’s utter dominance in 2020 that granted the club even more confidence to feel comfortable enough to part ways with a solid veteran starter like Carrasco, as he was added in the Francisco Lindor trade with the Mets in January. But over the last week, Plesac hasn’t resembled the hurler he became last season.
Good pitching is obviously important for any team, but the Indians rely on it more than most. Cleveland’s offense has been streaky over the last few years, and with the potential of Chicago’s and Minnesota’s rosters, the Indians will need their rotation to take advantage of every opportunity that the offense can put runs on the board. That’s been the club’s recipe to victories so far this season, as it had gone 7-0 in games in which it scored at least four runs until Tuesday.
The White Sox pushed two runs across in the third inning, and the Indians responded with a Jordan Luplow homer in the bottom half of the frame. And after Chicago added another run in the next inning, Cleveland attempted to give Plesac the momentum he needed by rallying in the bottom of the fourth, but any positive energy that started shifting in the Indians’ favor was halted when right fielder Josh Naylor attempted to score from second on an infield single (when third-base coach Mike Sarbaugh clearly had the stop sign up), to end the inning before José Ramírez had the chance to bat with the bases loaded.
“That was our big chance to not only get [White Sox starter Carlos Rodón] out of the game, but also get on the board more,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “We'll continue when things come up just to talk to guys so they understand. People are going to make mistakes. The hope is that you don't make the same one again.”
In three starts against the White Sox in 2020, Plesac yielded four runs in 20 2/3 innings. This year, he’s permitted 12 runs in 5 2/3 frames in two outings against Chicago. And he won’t have much time before he’s forced to face that club again -- assuming the rotation stays on schedule -- as he’ll be slated to pitch at Guaranteed Rate Field in two starts.
“For as well as I was feeling tonight, the runs they scored didn’t justify as well as I felt out there,” Plesac said. “Moving forward, I think I’m gonna take everything I can with this outing, with every pitch I had that each of them ticked up and look forward to my start.”