Plutko Flirts With Perfection, Completes No-Hitter for Clippers
Bob Toth | On 03, Jun 2018
The Cleveland Indians’ no-hitter drought hit 37 years in the middle of May on the anniversary of Len Barker’s perfect game against the Toronto Blue Jays. That has not been the case for their Triple-A affiliate in Columbus, which suffered for just over a week between hurling its second no-hitter of the season.
Adam Plutko, making his first start for Columbus after a two-start promotion to Cleveland at the end of May, became the second Clippers pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the span of nine days on Saturday night when he blanked the Syracuse Chiefs on their home field in a 6-0 final.
Plutko’s performance followed that of fellow right-hander Shane Bieber, who threw a rain-shortened seven-inning no-hitter against the Gwinnett Stripers on the road on Friday, May 25.
The 26-year-old Plutko was the recipient of some early and steady run support from his offense, which put up three runs in the third and added single runs in the fourth, fifth, and ninth.
He started his pursuit of history on Saturday with a swinging strikeout of Jaff Decker before getting a pair of fly ball outs. He added two more outs in the air in the bottom of the second before striking out Matt Hague looking on three pitches.
Columbus gave him the lead in the third. Eric Haase and Nellie Rodriguez each singled to put runners on the corners against Erick Fedde. Eric Stamets delivered an RBI-single to left to put the Clippers on the board and Yandy Diaz followed with a single to load the bases. Rehabbing Indians outfielders Brandon Guyer and Lonnie Chisenhall were retired, but Brandon Barnes lined a two-run double to right to make it 3-0 before a strikeout swinging by Yu Chang.
Plutko worked an easy home half of the third, opening and closing the inning with strikeouts around another out in the air on a pop out to first by Bengie Gonzalez.
The Clippers made it a 4-0 lead in the fourth on back-to-back hits again from Haase and Rodriguez. The Columbus catcher doubled to left and scored on a single to right from Rodriguez to give Plutko a four-run edge.
Plutko retired the first two batters of the fourth on the ground, his first outs not via fly ball or strikeout. He got another fly ball from Jose Marmolejos to end the inning to make it 12 straight Chiefs retired.
Columbus alternated hits and outs in the fifth to tack on a fifth run for their perfect starter. Guyer singled to short before Chisenhall struck out. Barnes singled to put two on for Chang, who struck out again. First pitch swinging, Francisco Mejia singled to right to score Guyer and move Barnes to third, but Haase flied to left to end the inning with the Clippers on top, 5-0. Plutko rewarded their effort with a pair of outs in the air, sandwiched around his fifth strikeout.
After his teammates were retired in order for the first time since the second inning, Plutko breezed through the bottom of the sixth, striking out Tuffy Gosewisch to start the inning before a grounder from Gonzalez and a fly ball from Hunter Jones to extend his streak to 18 straight batters retired. He pushed it to 21 after seven, getting Decker and Irving Falu to fly out to Chisenhall in right before he struck out Marmolejos swinging on three pitches in an economical nine-pitch frame.
If his nine-pitch seventh was economical, his eighth was an absolute bargain. Plutko needed just six pitches to retire the Chiefs in order, getting Jacob Wilson to ground to short, Yadiel Hernandez to ground to second, and Hague to foul out deep to right to the rehabbing Chisenhall, who made the tough catch.
The Clippers gave Plutko one final run in the ninth, when Indians’ spring camp invitee Carlos Torres took the mound for the Chiefs and plunked Guyer and gave up a single to Chisenhall with one out. A two-out RBI-single by Chang made it a 6-0 game.
Three outs away from perfection, Plutko was back on the mound with 98 pitches under his belt and 24 straight retired. Gosewisch flied the second pitch of the inning deep to the right field corner to Chisenhall for the first out, but the strike zone was not in Plutko’s favor against Gonzalez, as two pitches low in the zone were called balls and he walked the Syracuse shortstop on a 3-2 pitch to end the perfect game. It did not rattle Plutko, however, who got Jones to fly to left on three pitches before ending the game the same way that he started it, needing three pitches to strike out Decker swinging on the 112th pitch of his night before meeting his teammates in the center of the diamond for a well-deserved celebration while getting an equally deserving ovation from the road crowd in Syracuse.
Plutko’s final line earned him a perfect 100 game score, as he threw nine no-hit innings while allowing one walk and striking out eight. He moved to 5-3 on the year for Columbus and 8-3 on the year overall, combined with his numbers in Cleveland. His ERA dropped to 1.87 and his WHIP shrank further to 0.70 during his eight starts at Triple-A. He has walked just ten batters in 53 innings of International League action on the season.
“I threw a couple borderline pitches that … honestly, they were probably balls,” Plutko was quoted after the game in a story on MiLB.com, referring to his ninth inning walk of Gonzalez. “He check-swung on the one, I wanted them to say he went around, but I think he didn’t. I’d say it was a standup job by the umpires.
“They’re supposed to get hits. I mean, that’s what they get paid to do,” he continued. “The pressure is not on me. It’s on them to get hits. So that’s kind of my mindset with it and really that’s the extent of it. They’re supposed to get hits.”
While the Chiefs were held hitless, the same could not be said for the Clippers, who used 14 hits to put up six runs in their victory, with every member of the lineup recording at least one hit and five different players driving in at least one run.
Columbus became the first International League club to throw two no-hitters in one season since 2012, when Indianapolis threw a pair. The International League has been the home of all three Triple-A no-hitters thrown this season, with a combined effort accomplished by the same Chiefs against Indianapolis on April 18 accounting for the only one not hurled by the Clippers in 2018. The IL had just one no-hitter thrown last season, when Charlotte’s Lucas Giolito blanked the same Syracuse club in seven innings on May 25, 2017.
For the Chiefs, they are no strangers to no-hitters – it marked a record 18th time that Syracuse was no-hit since joining the International League. Justin Germano threw a perfect game for the Clippers over Syracuse in 2011, one of nine no-hitters tossed by Columbus pitchers since joining the International League in 1977.
Since 2000, when four no-hitters were thrown in International League play, no year has hosted more than three no-nos during the regular season.
The no-hitter from Plutko is actually his second no-hit start this season for the Clippers. On April 28, in his final start with Columbus before making his first Major League start for the Indians in the nightcap of a doubleheader on May 3 against the Toronto Blue Jays, Plutko worked seven and two-thirds perfect innings with six strikeouts before turning the game over to the bullpen after throwing 95 pitches. Neil Ramirez promptly gave up a double to end the perfect game, but wrapped up a combined three-hit shutout of the Indianapolis Indians.
Plutko also took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in his second Major League start against the Chicago Cubs on May 23.
The fifth-year pro is expected to make at least one more start for Columbus sometime in the next week. Cleveland will not need a fifth starter until June 12 and both Plutko and Bieber are possible options for the Indians for that start and those that follow. Plutko’s performance on Saturday did nothing to hurt his cause.
Photo: Jeremy Wadsworth/Toledo Blade