Plesac and ‘Pen Combine on Six-Hit Shutout of Detroit; Indians 1, Tigers 0
Bob Toth | On 18, Sep 2020
Zach Plesac got back on track on Friday night, shutting down Detroit for seven and two-thirds innings while making some baseball history, and the Cleveland bullpen secured the final four outs with a couple of scares along the way as the Indians blanked the Tigers in a 1-0 contest.
Plesac’s case for the number two starter in the Tribe’s potential playoff rotation was strengthened with an impressive effort all around in the second of four games from Detroit’s Comerica Park this weekend. He made a season-high 112 pitches, throwing 76 for strikes with 21 swings and misses throughout the evening. That helped him to amass eleven strikeouts of Tigers hitters, matching his career-best established in his first start of the season against the Chicago White Sox on July 29. He walked one batter and allowed just five hits while keeping the Tigers in check all night. It marked Plesac’s seventh straight start this season of six innings or more and his fifth start overall allowing one run or less in a day’s work.
The scoring summary on the night was brief and came in the fifth inning in Detroit left-hander Tyler Alexander’s second inning of relief. Delino DeShields tripled to center with one out and scored two pitches later on a sacrifice fly from Francisco Lindor.
Plesac had some brief troubles around a historic accomplishment in the early innings. He allowed a pair of base runners in the first, giving up a double to Willi Castro before walking Miguel Cabrera. Plesac got his first strikeout of the game, setting down Jeimer Candelario, and Harold Castro ended the inning with a grounder to second.
Plesac joined an extremely short list of Indians hurlers in the second inning. Jorge Bonifacio fouled off two four-seamers before swinging and missing at a slider for Plesac’s second K of the game. Niko Goodrum missed a changeup and a pair of fastballs for the second out. Austin Romine fouled off a slider before watching two more cross the plate. Plesac’s nine-pitch inning and three straight strikeouts achieved him an “immaculate inning”, just the third ever recorded by an Indians pitcher.
The right-hander gave up a pair of singles to start the third inning as Isaac Paredes and Victor Reyes each singled, but Paredes was picked off before the latter’s hit as the Tigers posed no real threat in the frame. After a single with one out in the next inning by H. Castro, Plesac retired 13 in a row before V. Reyes singled with two down in the eighth. James Karinchak took over and walked W. Castro before striking out Cabrera swinging.
If Karinchak’s work did not have fans on the edge of their seats in the eighth, Brad Hand had a surprise in store for them in the ninth after the Indians left the bases loaded against the Tigers bullpen. Hand retired Candelario on a fly out to left for the first out. Daz Cameron, pinch-hitting for Derek Hill, fell behind 0-2 before driving a fastball to the deepest part of the park for a triple, putting the tying run 90 feet from the plate. Hand wiped out Bonifacio swinging on 2-2 after five straight sliders for the second out, then punched out Goodrum with six straight sliders, K’ing him on another 2-2 pitch to end it with his 13th save of the year.
The Indians moved to 28-23 on the year and 16-12 on the road. The Tigers’ fleeting playoff chances dwindled further as the club dropped to 21-29 with ten left on the schedule.
The Tigers used seven pitchers on the night, opening with Michael Fulmer. He had his best start of the season, throwing three shutout innings of one-hit baseball, walking one and striking out a pair in his third start against Cleveland this season. He stranded a runner at second in the first, as Lindor worked a leadoff walk before later stealing second ahead of Fulmer working out of it. He retired the side in order in the second and left Roberto Perez at third in the third after he singled, moved to second on a sacrifice, and advanced to third on a groundout before Cesar Hernandez struck out swinging for the second time.
Alexander took over for Fulmer in the fourth and gave up a single to Jose Ramirez, a one-out walk to Franmil Reyes, and a two-out walk to Jordan Luplow. With Perez at the plate and the count at 2-2, Ramirez broke for the plate in an attempted straight steal of home. Alexander stepped off of the rubber and fired to Romine at the plate, narrowly nabbing Ramirez to prevent the first run of the game in a curious decision overall.
The Tigers slowed down the Indians some after the sacrifice fly by Lindor against Alexander. The lefty allowed a single to Hernandez before striking out Ramirez to close the fifth. Joe Jimenez threw a 1-2-3 sixth. Jose Cisnero worked around a leadoff walk of Luplow in the seventh and Buck Farmer threw a scoreless inning, giving up only a hit to Ramirez.
The Indians had another bases loaded opportunity disappear in the ninth in the 1-0 game. Tyler Naquin greeted Bryan Garcia with a leadoff walk. Luplow popped to short, but Perez drew a walk. DeShields put runners on the corners with a fly out to left for the second out. Lindor walked on four straight to load the bases, bringing Ron Gardenhire out for pitcher Gregory Soto. After a brief delay when the catcher Romine was struck on the left forearm by an 0-1 pitch in the dirt and had to leave the game (replaced by former Indians farmhand Eric Haase), Hernandez lost a nine-pitch at bat, grounding weakly to third to leave the lead at one. Cleveland left ten on the night and went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
Plesac’s “immaculate inning” was the first thrown in the Majors this season. Carlos Carrasco was the last Indians pitcher to record one, doing so on July 7, 2017, against the Tigers. He struck out Nicholas Castellanos, Mikie Mahtook, and Jose Iglesias in the fifth inning of that contest. The only other one recorded in Cleveland history came on June 2, 2014, when Justin Masterson accomplished the feat against his former team, the Boston Red Sox, using nine straight strikes to retire Jonny Gomes, Grady Sizemore, and Stephen Drew. The Indians have had four immaculate innings thrown against them, with the last occurring on April 23, 2018, by Baltimore’s Kevin Gausman.
“His tempo’s much better. His command is much better,” interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said. “Kind of simplified his mechanics. Last year was a little bit of a struggle with the way he set his glove — I felt like he was tipping his pitches.”
Plesac became just the 94th pitcher to ever record an immaculate inning with the 101st such inning on record. The last one in the Majors came on September 27 of last season by Houston’s Will Harris. The accomplishment itself is significantly less common than no-hitters (304).
The Indians now trail the Minnesota Twins by two games for the second spot in the division and the Chicago White Sox by five games for the American League Central lead. Oakland clinched a playoff berth in the American League on Friday, the third team to do so in the junior circuit and the fourth overall in the Majors (Los Angeles remains the only team to clinch in the National League).
The Indians will look to clinch a needed series win on Saturday night in game three of the four-game series, scheduled for a 6:10 PM ET start. Detroit will turn to Spencer Turnbull (4-3, 3.94 ERA), the 28-year-old right-hander. Cleveland will send out rookie right-hander Triston McKenzie (2-1, 3.91 ERA) for his second start against the Tigers in his young career.
Photo: Duane Burleson/Getty Images