KANSAS CITY — Pitchers are often instructed to allow their position players to catch popups and field balls in their vicinity whenever possible so the hurlers don’t have to deal with the mound or risk injury. But Indians starter Zach Plesac threw all those rules aside on Friday night.
In the bottom of the sixth inning of the Indians 8-3 victory, Bubba Starling popped up near the Royals’ dugout in foul territory and Plesac took a quick glance to see where his first baseman was. Jake Bauers had been playing off the bag, putting him a few steps behind Plesac’s direct route, so the pitcher knew he only had one option.
“I took a peek and JB [Bauers] was not at first,” Plesac said. “So I peeked again as I started going over there and realized I was going to be the one closest to the ball. I just had to make a play on it. My feet were still in the grass so I had to kind of like dive if I had to.”
With catcher Kevin Plawecki a few feet away and Bauers behind him, Plesac laid out to make the full-extension grab.
“Kudos to him,” Bauers said. “That’s the type of guy he is on the mound. He’s got a little bit of bulldog in him. That’s the kind of guy you want right there on your side.”
As he belly flopped onto the ground, Plesac’s head snapped forward and he ate some dirt during the slide. He took a moment to lay flat before popping up to his feet, tapping his mouth and pointing up to the sky. He turned to his catcher, smiling as he made his walk back to the mound while dusting himself off.
“Yeah, I mean I smacked the ground pretty hard,” Plesac said. “It was like nothing too crazy, but I gave myself enough time to get back on the mound, get a good rhythm, so just make a good pitch.”
While he made a play that’s sure to be shown on countless highlight reels, it stole the attention away from an outing that manager Terry Francona deemed Plesac’s best of the season.
“I’d like to talk about his pitching,” Francona said. “He stayed in his delivery. He was able to slow down. Some of the things that we talked about before the game, he was working with [pitching coach] Carl [Willis]. Because of that, he had more power with command. He had a better breaking ball. But that play he made, that was athletic as hell. That was a great play.”
The Indians had exhausted their bullpen, using seven relievers in Thursday’s 14-inning win over the Royals and Plesac was there to assist in this one. The rookie tossed seven strong innings, allowing one run (unearned) on six hits with two walks and four strikeouts.
“I think it was on my mind, definitely,” Plesac said. “I knew I had to go deep. It was the best thing I could do for the team after what we did having a late game last night. So the game plan was to be aggressive. Talked to KP [Plawecki] before, throw strikes, try to get ahead, try to get early contact, and that’s what we did.”
Plesac’s athleticism is evident, his pickoff move has turned heads through his first 11 career starts and Francona constantly praises his ability to compete at the big league level. Over his last three starts, Plesac is 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA, as he allowed just two runs over 16 innings in that span.
“I felt really good,” Plesac said. “This whole time I’ve been trying to hit little jumps, hit these goals I’m trying to hit and make adjustments, and tonight was one of those nights. I felt really good with all my pitches and I felt like I was in good direction, good rhythm, so I’m just going to look to build off that going into my next start.”