Plesac is plus, minus his lack of run support

47 minutes ago

MINNEAPOLIS — The Guardians traveled to Target Field this week for three games that could prove pivotal in deciding the American League Central.

Zach Plesac did his part with six strong innings on Thursday afternoon, but Cleveland left the series tied atop the division standings with Minnesota after a 1-0 loss in the finale. It was the third straight one-run game in the set.

The lone blemish on Plesac’s line was a third-inning homer by Twins center fielder Nick Gordon.

“Give the kid credit, I didn’t think it was going out,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “But it was probably a little bit of a lazy curveball and he put a good swing on it. You hope that doesn’t hold up, but it did.”

The Guardians head home for a weekend series against the Red Sox after going 7-2 on this three-city road trip, with series wins against Colorado, the Dodgers and Minnesota. Cleveland (36-29) has won seven series in a row and is in a virtual tie with the Twins (39-32) for the division lead, though the Guardians have played six fewer games.

After two back-and-forth contests to start the series, the offenses took a back seat to the pitching on Thursday. Plesac (2-5), who surrendered a season-low three hits, walked two and struck out six.

“One mistake in the game and he capitalized on it,” Plesac said. “Just got to tip your cap and keep pitching to the next guy.”

Plesac continued a strong June, allowing just one run for the second straight outing. He has given up seven earned runs over 24 innings in four starts in the month for a 2.63 ERA.

The right-hander’s good performances date back one start further when he ended May with one run allowed in six innings against Kansas City. Plesac has gone at least six innings in his last five outings, all being quality starts.

“Just commanding the ball better,” Plesac said. “I think I’m executing better, making less mistakes. Before, I was kind of getting ahead in the counts, trying to make a better pitch than I needed to and lose it over the plate and get hit. So, I’m doing a better job with that, getting a better feeling of how I’m able to put some dudes away.”

The curveball to Gordon was his one mistake. Plesac didn’t make any with his slider.

“Pretty good,” Francona said of Plesac’s performance. “I thought he had, maybe, the best slider we’ve seen in a while and he executed it, especially with two strikes, against some of their right-hand hitters.”

Unfortunately for Plesac, run support has been tough to come by. He’s received zero runs of support in seven of his 13 starts this season. Devin Smeltzer (4-1) held the Guardians to three hits in his six innings for Minnesota.

After pulling out the previous two games in late-inning situations, Cleveland couldn’t get the big hit in the finale. The Guardians loaded the bases in the seventh against Joe Smith, but they couldn’t score after two ground balls for forceouts and a fly ball ended the inning.

Cleveland had the potential tying run on in the ninth after Andr?s Gim?nez’s one-out double, but he was left stranded.

“We’ve been playing close games with everybody,” Francona said. “That’s kind of the way it’s been. They’re a good team. We’re not going to back down, but we respect them.”

Minnesota travels to Cleveland for a five-game series Monday-Thursday. There are 12 more games between the teams at the top of the Central, and 18 of the last 21 matchups have been decided by three runs or fewer.

The Guardians are used to playing close games late. Their June surge has them optimistic they’ll come out on top most days.

“We’re relentless,” Plesac said of what the road trip showed him. “We never quit. One through nine, we’ve got guys who are coming in clutch right now. Dudes are pitching out of the bullpen locked in. Guys are coming in off the bench making game-winning, sacrifice, whatever it is, get the guy over, move them in.

“We’re a good team all-around, and I think that’s why we’re playing so well and we’re beating guys. We do it as a team.”