Focus and Control are Keys For Plutko’s Success
Danny Madden | On 03, May 2016
Not every pitcher is going to have a blow-it-by-you fastball. We’ve seen in the past that having an electric fastball doesn’t always make you an outstanding pitcher. Sure, it helps out a ton, but you don’t need it. What every pitcher aims to achieve is to have control and sustainability. I introduce to you right-handed pitcher Adam Plutko, otherwise known as Josh Tomlin 2.0.
Plutko, 24, was drafted by the Tribe in the eleventh round of the 2013 draft. The UCLA product has been one of the most reliable arms in the Indians farm system since arriving. He made his debut with the club in 2014 at Low-A where he started in ten games and posted a record of 3-1 and an ERA of 3.93. In 52 2/3 innings, he racked up 66 strikeouts to 12 walks. Again, control is his game through and through.
He was moved up to High-A Carolina, but he did seem to struggle during his first trip through High-A. In 18 games, Plutko put together a record of 4-9 with an ERA of 4.08. During his time at Carolina, Plutko did rack up more punch outs as he struck out 78 and walked 18. Unfortunately he also brought his HR/9 from 0.2 in Low-A to 1.0 at High-A. In Low-A, he served up one long ball, but in 97 innings at High-A he gave up eleven bombs. Obviously this was an area that Plutko was going to need to improve on.
Going into the 2015 season, Plutko wasn’t probably a name that many people knew very well, but that was going to change. Starting the season off in High-A Lynchburg, Plutko dominated the league and was wildly effective through each of his starts. He posted a record of 4-2 in eight starts with an ERA of 1.27. Everything that Plutko did seemed to be working for him. His BB/9 and HR/9 dropped from 1.7 to 0.9 and 1.0 to 0.5, respectively. He also increased his K/9 from 7.2 to 8.5. He wasn’t walking many batters, was striking out more, and most importantly, limited the long ball. He was inevitably brought up to Double-A Akron where his success continued. He joined Mike Clevinger, Shawn Morimando, and Ryan Merritt in the Double-A rotation and excelled along with these fine pitchers. In his 19 starts, he had a record of 9-5 with a 3.05 ERA in 116 1/3 innings of work. He struck out 90, and walked 23.
He was rewarded this offseason by the Indians by inviting him to the big league camps spring training. He got the chance to experience the camp for its entirety, and there was hope that he could continue on this path that he carved out for himself and find his way to the big league club sooner rather than later.
In his first start of 2016, Plutko was nearly perfect. He went five and two-thirds innings, struck out eight, walked two, and held the opposition scoreless. Unfortunately, he then went the next nine innings giving up eight runs over three starts. After being so finely tuned for so long, Plutko seemed to have hit a rough patch, but it wasn’t necessarily a set back. The RubberDucks decided to skip Plutko’s next start to give him some rest, and it seemed to work to his benefit.
His following start he was much more refined, and it was a very Plutko-esque game.
“He was Adam. It was great to see him go out there and work with great tempo. I thought he got better as the game went on. That’s what we’re used to seeing,” manager Dave Wallace said.
He threw a masterful six and two-thirds innings where he only gave up one run on five hits and struck out six while not issuing a free pass.
“I was just trying to not get hit by line drives this game for the most part. That’s what took me out of the last one,” Plutko said. “It just felt good to be back out there, especially against the team that hit me and got me out of the game last time.”
For Plutko, it’s all about controlling the zone. His fastball resides around 92-93 mph, but he has a solid slider, change up, and curveball. If he’s able to work off of his fastball, he’s going to be successful, but he’s very similar to Tomlin. Without a blow-it-by-you fastball, you have to rely on your movement and control. If you lose that, you’re not going to last very long. Plutko has been very good at controlling the zone, and his most recent start goes to show that he is able to correct whatever issues he may have had in his previous few outings.
In his most recent start, he was facing New York Yankees Double-A pitcher Cale Coshow, who was throwing a one-hit game through six innings. The duel started to become a mind game between Plutko and Coshow on who would be the one to crack first.
“Those kind of games are real tough because we’re both thinking ‘who’s going to crack first?’ He threw a hell of a game and it was really fun battling back and forth and getting out there quick in between innings,” Plutko said.
These are the kind of games that really define a pitcher. You can either fold and give in, or collect yourself and get through the pressure. Plutko did the latter.
“When you start getting runners in scoring position, you change your mindset a little bit,” said Plutko. “If you’re up by three runs, you’re like ‘okay, if they score one right here, no big deal.’ In that kind of game you’ve got to keep them off base any way possible.”
He’s a gamer, which speaks well to his mindset going into the big leagues. You have to have that kind of personality if you want to be a successful pitcher. You can’t let the runners, or anything else in the game, distract you from the guy at the plate. Plutko really showed that off Monday night and his manager noticed as well.
“We had some big situations where a guy’s on third with less than two outs. He went about his business and executed his next pitch,” said Wallace. “When that didn’t happen, he put it behind him and went on to the next one. I was impressed and happy for him.”
It’s common to see guys get an opportunity in the minors to succeed and just blow it and never seize that chance. That’s not the case with Plutko. He’s a strong-willed pitcher with the tenacity to succeed. He’s not long for the Double-A level, and he may have proven that he’s ready to rise up to whatever challenge will come to him next.
Photo: David Monseur/MiLB.com