Energy high despite sweep, 3 DHs in 1 week

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DETROIT — Three doubleheaders in a week is a lot to ask of any team, and the last twin bill of the trio coming in day-night form against the Tigers on the Fourth of July seemed like an extra test for the Guardians.

“We’ve just got to keep the energy around here on days like this, doubleheaders,” said Zach Plesac, who started Cleveland’s 4-1 loss in Game 1. “We’re playing a lot of games in a row and … this is a key moment here: Between these games is when the energy has to stay up.”

While Monday’s contests represented an end to a brutal stretch, the sweep at Comerica Park also left the Guardians a little deflated. Both games were well within Cleveland’s control, there was just a little something missing from each.

If that something was energy, no one could blame the Guardians. Of course, you’d never catch them complaining.

“I actually think [our energy is] pretty good,” said catcher Luke Maile. “It didn’t show today. We certainly had some miscues and some stuff that you would like to think wouldn’t happen if we weren’t on such a grinding stretch, but we’re not in a position to think about it or worry about it, we’re just trying to show up and do the best we can.”

Cleveland gave the oft-reliable Plesac the ball to set the tone in the opener. He took the hill with a string of six quality starts dating back to May 30, and a 2.00 ERA during that stretch. Thanks in no small part to confidence, advance work and adjusting on the fly, Plesac said, his consistency is something that’s evolved during his career.

Monday might have been harder work than some of his other outings, but when all was said and done, Plesac had stretched that quality-outings streak to seven with a six-inning, two-run effort. Even with that hot stretch, Plesac is statistically still just the fourth-best arm in Cleveland’s rotation right now:

Shane Bieber (3-4, 3.16 ERA)
Triston McKenzie
(5-6, 3.71)
Cal Quantrill
(4-4, 3.72)
Zach Plesac (2-6, 3.80)

Unfortunately, Plesac’s record is not so much performance-based as much as it is (un)luck of the draw: According to FanGraphs, just two qualified pitchers in baseball — Oakland’s Frankie Montas and Kansas City’s Brad Keller — receive less offensive support than Plesac’s 2.84 runs per game.

Such was the case during Game 1, when the Guardians mustered just two hits — including a solo homer from Josh Naylor.

That didn’t stop Plesac from doing his thing. The Tigers didn’t score on him after the two-run first frame, and the rest of his outing was highlighted by a five-pitch fifth that bought Plesac — who’d entered the frame with 67 pitches after bulldogging through a 25-pitch fourth — some momentum heading into the sixth.

“Those are huge. When you can get those quick outs after throwing a lot of pitches in the first few innings, it definitely got me feeling good and in a good rhythm,” he said. “… You will always take those when you get them.”

Unfortunately, the two-run first was all the Tigers needed.

Konnor Pilkington, who was activated during the intermission, was solid in the Guardians’ 5-3 loss in Game 2 but not quite as effective as Plesac. He needed 79 pitches to navigate his four frames, sustaining minimal damage (three runs, one earned) but also falling victim to infield hits and a miscommunication with catcher Sandy Le?n that forced an already taxed bullpen into service earlier than anyone would have liked.

“We harp on our guys all spring, if you get a Major League hitter to hit it 90 feet or less, we’ve got to get outs,” manager Terry Francona said. “We didn’t convert two ground balls to first and the popup. It made it really hard. Those are probably a couple of runs at least that shouldn’t have been there.”

Cleveland put up three runs in the nightcap and collected six hits, but all the runs and half the hits were condensed into a singular fourth-inning outburst.

For better or worse, the ugly stretch is through. The Guardians have one more scheduled doubleheader before the All-Star break and one afterward, but nothing like what they just weathered.

That, alone, is enough good news to keep them pushing forward.

“To be honest, I haven’t thought about it too much,” Maile said. “You kind of do yourself a disservice to think about it. It is tough; the guys are grinding. But we’re still in a good position, and I fully expect us to come up tomorrow and play well.”