Notes: Bullpen battle narrows after most recent cuts; Plesac takes big leap
4:22 AM UTC
GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Slowly but surely, the Guardians are narrowing down their bullpen options.
The team needed all hands on deck to get through Saturday’s day/night split-squad day that began with a 6-4 loss to the D-backs at Salt River Fields in the afternoon and ended with a 5-4 win over the Mariners at Goodyear Ballpark. So, the team didn’t make any cuts prior to this doubleheader, but it did make progress in trimming its roster on Friday.
Left-handed pitcher Konnor Pilkington was optioned to Triple-A Columbus and righty Cade Smith was reassigned to Minor League camp on Friday afternoon.
Smith was unlikely to make the Opening Day roster, especially since he missed some time with the team to join Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic. But the 23-year-old has yet to play above Double-A Akron, making it far-fetched for him to break camp with the Guardians, regardless of his participation in the Classic.
Pilkington, on the other hand, was in the group of starters, including No. 23 prospect Xzavion Curry and Hunter Gaddis (No. 28), who could’ve been carried as a long reliever. But Pilkington was not sharp this spring. Although his defense didn’t give him much support last time out, he still struggled with his command in Cactus League play, permitting five walks in 7 1/3 innings and giving up nine runs (six earned) in those four appearances. Having another lefty option out of the ‘pen certainly wouldn’t hurt, especially since Sam Hentges is still recovering from shoulder inflammation, but Pilkington won’t be the one filling that need.
Both Curry and Gaddis are still in the mix, and with the way Gaddis has pitched thus far, he’s made a compelling case to take one of the two openings, assuming Hentges isn’t ready by Opening Day.
Of the remaining arms still in big league camp, Nick Mikolajchak was intriguing. He’s been a prospect on Cleveland’s radar and has had a decent spring, but a wrench was thrown in any possible plan in the day game of Saturday’s doubleheader when he was removed with a right arm injury. The Guardians are expecting to know more about his condition on Sunday morning.
That leaves Michael Kelly, Touki Toussaint, Gaddis, Curry, Phillip Diehl, Luis Oviedo, Dusten Knight and Caleb Baragar fighting for a roster spot.
A spring standing ovation
Rarely does a starting pitcher make the jump from four innings to seven innings in the process of getting stretched out for the regular season, but when a hurler is as efficient as Zach Plesac was on Saturday night against the Mariners, it was the only option.
Two starts ago, Plesac gave up one hit in four scoreless frames in an exhibition game against Team Mexico. Last time out, he was knocked out of the game after 2 2/3 innings, giving up two runs on four hits (he was removed in the first inning and re-entered for the second). But if there was anyone who needed an establishing outing to show they could be on the right track heading into the ’23 season, it was Plesac. In the win against the Mariners, he was charged with one run on three hits with one walk and four strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings, throwing 74 pitches.
The righty has talked this spring about his desire to be mentally stronger than he was last season. He’s ready to see the results he knows he can get without the inconsistencies he’s battled through the last few years. And with a handful of exciting starting prospects getting closer to being Major League ready, Plesac knows he needs to earn his spot. If he pitches like he did Saturday, he’ll certainly do just that.
“That was so nice to see,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “You could tell he was excited. Good for him, which is good for us. But that was really nice to see. That was well worth the wait.”
Arias stays hot
No. 9 prospect Gabriel Arias has all but solidified that he’ll be on the Guardians’ Opening Day roster with the way he’s swung the bat this spring. He added two more hits to bring his average to .351 (13-for-37) in 14 Cactus League games, and he’s also played solid defense, no matter which position he’s been asked to play.
“He’s doing a good job because he’s hitting the ball the other way,” Francona said. “But defensively, he looks like he’s maturing too. Making some plays that we’ve kind of seen [Andr?s Gim?nez] make.”