Guardians’ streak of quality starts snapped in Houston

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HOUSTON — Cleveland starter Zach Plesac seemed like he was on his way to a second consecutive quality start as he cruised early, holding the Astros hitless through 2 2/3 innings before things began to unravel.

With two outs in the third, Mart?n Maldonado, the Astros’ No. 9 hitter, stepped into the box and was hit by a pitch, setting off a turn of events as things went awry for Plesac in the 7-3 Guardians loss on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.

He wound up loading the bases as he yielded a single to Jose Altuve and walked Michael Brantley to bring up Alex Bregman, who knocked in two runs with a double. Unable to settle back in after the third, Plesac was charged with seven runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings of work.

It all unraveled quickly, but there’s a simple reason for the tough outing — Plesac simply stopped executing his pitches, and against a hot-hitting lineup like the Astros, there’s virtually no room for error.

“When he made his pitches, he was fine,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “When you make mistakes that run over the plate, that’s how [the Astros] make their living.”

It has been a tough start to the season for Plesac, who now has a 5.40 ERA in 43 1/3 innings with a 1-4 record in eight starts. He has given up four or more earned runs in four of his starts and has gone six or more innings in just three of his outings.

On Tuesday, he gave up six of his seven runs with two outs in the inning. Though the offense scratched across three runs off Astros lefty Framber Valdez, Plesac’s shaky outing was too much to overcome.

“I think there is a lot that goes into it,” Francona said. “I think the mentality has to be, ‘Okay, whatever happened, happened. I have to take care of what’s in front of me.’ That’s easier said than done.”

Plesac’s outing also snapped the starting rotation’s streak of registering seven quality starts in a row, the longest streak by any MLB team this season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The starters had a 1.94 ERA with 35 strikeouts in that span.

Though the execution has been lacking for Plesac, he has also been plagued by a lack of run support. Entering Tuesday, he had received jut 11 total runs of support, including one or fewer runs in four of his seven starts. The 2.56 runs of support per nine innings was the fifth-lowest mark in the American League.

That trend seemed to continue on Tuesday as Jos? Ram?rez’s solo home run in the first inning — his second in as many days — was the only run the Guardians scored before Plesac was pulled. Cleveland had mustered just three hits while the righty was on the mound, two of which came off the bat of Ram?rez.

“Executing early on, I had all my pitches working,” Plesac said. “I think that’s really the takeaway from this is when I execute my pitches, I feel like I can battle through any lineup.”