Pro Ball is No Challenge for Former UCLA Standout, Plutko
Laurel Wilder | On 22, May 2014
If he had a choice, right-handed pitcher Adam Plutko would never pitch in cold Ohio weather.
“Coming from California, the weather helps that it’s starting to get a little warmer. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t play into my first couple starts this year,” Plutko admitted. “It’s nice that it’s getting warmer…That’s why baseball’s played in the summer and not the winter time!”
Plutko, who hails from California, pitched for three years at the University of California – Los Angeles on a staff that has included the likes of Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole, who is currently with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. His experience in the warm weather certainly made the shift to Ohio – and cold weather ball – a bit intimidating. The challenge, however, never seemed to materialize. Plutko wasted no time in asserting himself as a pitcher that the Lake County Captains staff knows and can count on.
Plutko is no stranger to successful pitching. While at UCLA, he finished his career with the most postseason wins (7), games started (8), innings pitched (57.2), and the lowest postseason ERA (0.94) in school history. As UCLA’s Friday starter, in 2013, Plutko went 10-3 in 19 starts and amassed 81 strikeouts in 124 innings pitched. He went 3-0 in four postseason starts during the 2013 season, with a 1.00 ERA and a .206 opposing batting average, walking only five batters throughout the entire postseason. Plutko went 2-0 in the 2013 College World Series with a 1.38 ERA and was named the College World Series Most Valuable Player.
2014 marks Plutko’s first season of professional baseball. He was drafted in the 11th round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft out of UCLA, and entered his 2014 campaign as the 18th-best prospect in the Indians’ system.
After throwing 124 innings throughout his 2013 college season, the Indians chose to keep Plutko off 2013 rosters, making his first experience with the organization this year’s Spring Training. Plutko was placed on the Lake County roster from the beginning of the season, and made his professional debut on April 6 against the Lansing Lugnuts.
Plutko described the biggest transition between college and professional ball as the more tangible aspects of the game, such as travel arrangements and how those affect the atmosphere of play.
“It’s been different,” Plutko said of the shift. “Good, obviously, I’ve enjoyed it a lot. But in college, we flew everywhere, so now I get [used to] bus rides. I think this is the second or third time that we bussed the night before and I’ve had to pitch. Little things like that have been different, but I’ve been happy with everything so far.”
Plutko has pitched with the command and control he harnessed during college, earning praise from Rigo Beltran, the Lake County Captains pitching coach.
“He was in total control of the game, throwing everything for strikes,” Beltran said of Plutko’s most recent start on May 19. “He was controlling the counts throughout the game. He does a good job of controlling the running game, does all of the fundamentals, really prepares mentally for every game, knows his strengths, knows his weaknesses, he understands the hitters and what they’re trying to do, and just really goes after it. He just has a good feel for how to pitch.”
“He can throw four pitches for strikes, too,” Manager Mark Budzinski added. “It’s all about keeping guys off balance.”
On May 8, Plutko struck out a career-high 13 batters while throwing against the Bowling Green Hot Rods, his second outing with at least 10 strikeouts this season. He pitched eight shutout innings and held the Hot Rods to three hits.
“You can’t pitch much better than Plutko did [that night],” Budzinski said. “That’s a textbook way how to pitch.”
Following his impressive outing on May 8, Plutko was named the Indians Minor League Player of the Week for the week of May 5-11. He was also named the Midwest League Pitcher of the Week on May 12. He currently leads the Captains with 46.1 innings and is second in the Midwest League with 58 strikeouts. He boasts a 4.08 ERA and a 2-1 record in nine starts. Opposing batters are hitting .240 against Plutko, and he has walked 11 batters throughout the season. He had a rough outing on May 14 in Fort Wayne, when he gave up 11 hits in four innings, including seven runs – all earned. Budzinski, however, said that was an abnormal outing for Plutko, demonstrating the skipper’s faith in his pitcher.
Plutko bounced back during his start on May 19 against Fort Wayne back in Eastlake, when he pitched 7 innings and held the Tin Caps to three hits. He allowed two runs (one earned), and struck out seven batters, posting a 1.29 ERA for his outing. He threw 77 percent of pitches for first-pitch strikes, an objective that Plutko said he and Beltran have been working on for his past few starts.
“It’s just all come together. I’m happy with tonight,” Plutko said.
“I threw against those guys five days ago,” Plutko continued, talking about the Tin Caps. “I thought my approach was pretty good [last time]; I thought I threw pretty well. I tried to stay with the same thing, tried to really pound the fastball – I know they’re an aggressive hitting team, so I feel like we did that effectively tonight.”
Though the Captains are heading up the back of the Midwest League with a 16-30 record, Plutko remains optimistic that the team will pull together and produce strong results during the rest of the season.
“It seems like we’re playing with the same approach; we’re not changing a whole lot,” Plutko said of his team. “There were a couple of close games early in the year, and I feel like the balls are starting to fall our way now.”
“When you lose 16 out of 17 in a row, obviously you need to change something. I feel like, from that point on, we’ve really played good ball,” Plutko said. “The wins aren’t necessarily there consistently – not as consistently as we’d like them to be – but they’re coming.”
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer