Plesac's immaculate inning sets tone

September 19th, 2020

It doesn’t get more textbook than 's second inning in the Indians’ 1-0 victory over the Tigers on Friday night at Comerica Park: Nine pitches, three strikeouts, one immaculate inning.

Plesac fanned Jorge Bonifacio, Niko Goodrum and Austin Romine to accomplish the feat before walking off the mound sporting a huge smile. It was the Tribe’s first immaculate inning since Carlos Carrasco also tossed one against the Tigers on July 7, 2017, in the fifth inning. He struck out Nick Castellanos, Mikie Mahtook and José Iglesias.

“I’ve never had an immaculate inning before,” Plesac said. “It was after the first strike with two outs, I was like, ‘Oh wait, I think we’re in the run for it.' Then I thought about throwing the slider right over the plate and they both caught the corner, so it worked.”

The first seven of Plesac’s nine strikes in the inning came on swings. Bonifacio fouled off back-to-back heaters before swinging through an 87.7 mph slider. Goodrum swung and missed at a first-pitch changeup, then whiffed at two heaters at the top of the zone. Romine got a piece of the first slider he saw, but he kept the bat on his shoulder for the next two sliders on the outside corner -- both called strikes.

“My direction was good toward home, me and [catcher Roberto Pérez] had a good mix,” Plesac said. “I really am just feeling comfortable with all my pitches right now. I feel like I can throw it at any time in the count and it’d be effective. So yeah, man, it was fun.”

The immaculate inning was just the start of a really strong night for Plesac, who allowed just five hits and matched a career high with 11 strikeouts in 7 2/3 scoreless frames. After a rough outing last Saturday against the Twins, Plesac was back to demonstrating why he may be the Tribe’s best option to be the club's No. 2 starter in the postseason, behind ace Shane Bieber.

Having Bieber and Plesac start the first two games of a three-game Wild Card Series would be a dangerous combination, especially if Plesac’s stuff resembled the sharpness of Friday’s performance. Five of his strikeouts in his second career game with double-digit whiffs came on the slider -- a pitch that has resulted in just four hits all season despite being thrown 184 times.

After owning a 3.81 ERA in 21 starts as a rookie in 2019, Plesac worked on some delivery changes, among other things, over the offseason to assure that he’d come back even better in '20. Through seven starts, he’s pitched to a 1.85 ERA with 50 strikeouts and four walks in 48 2/3 frames.

“Well, his tempo is much better,” acting Indians manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said of Plesac's sophomore campaign. “His command is much better. He kind of simplified his mechanics. Last year was a little bit of a struggle with the way he set his glove. I thought he was tipping his pitches last year, too, but this year is much better.”

The momentum from Plesac’s immaculate inning was broken up when he returned to the mound in the third. He gave up a leadoff single to Isaac Paredes, though the Tigers third baseman didn’t remain on first for long. Plesac reminded everyone of just how impressive his pick-off move is -- especially for a right-hander -- by catching Paredes creeping too far off the bag. It was Plesac’s second pickoff of the season after he led the Majors with six in 2019.

Plesac gave up another single in the fourth before retiring the next 13 batters leading up to a Victor Reyes two-out single in the eighth that ended the right-hander’s night. James Karinchak struck out Miguel Cabrera to preserve the Tribe’s one-run lead and help lead the club to its second consecutive victory.

The Indians currently own the No. 7 seed in the eight-team AL postseason field, trailing the Twins by two games for second place in the AL Central. If the season ended today, Cleveland would face the No. 2-seeded White Sox in the Wild Card Series. And Plesac is hoping to be given the ball in Game 2 of a potential postseason series.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Plesac said when asked if his goal is to follow Bieber in the postseason rotation. “You know, it’s out of my hands, but shoot man, if I get to pitch in a playoff game, I’ll be fired up and I’ll be ready to go.”