A week ago, Zach Plesac was finishing up a stint at the Cleveland Indians’ alternate training site as part of his banishment from the team for violating protocols put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.
He made a successful return on Sept. 1, and will face the Kansas City Royals for the second straight time when the Cleveland Indians host the worst team in the AL Central in the opener of a four-game series.
Plesac (2-1, 1.33 ERA) was punished for breaking curfew in Chicago along with Mike Clevinger, who was dealt to the San Diego Padres a week ago. Clevinger made one start after returning and then was dealt, creating an opening for Plesac.
He returned in Cleveland’s 10-1 win at Kansas City and allowed a run on four hits in six innings with six strikeouts to improve to 4-0 with a 1.98 ERA in five career starts against the Royals.
Plesac is making his fifth start for a team locked in a tight race for division supremacy. The Indians (25-15) are a half-game behind the first-place Minnesota Twins and one game up on the third-place Chicago White Sox.
“This group of guys are special,” Plesac said. “There has been a lot of learning for myself and my teammates. I think it’s something we can look forward and know that we have each other’s backs.”
Cleveland is 8-3 in its last 11 games after taking two of three from the Milwaukee Brewers. The Indians concluded the series with a 4-1 win when Shane Bieber fanned 10 in five innings, Carlos Santana drove in two runs and third baseman Jose Ramirez made a spectacular defensive play in the first inning.
“It’s nice to be able to have him on the hot corner making those plays for you and talking smack and enjoying playing baseball. Honestly, that’s what he does best, better than anybody, and it shows,” Bieber said.
The Royals (14-27) did not assist Cleveland by getting outscored 31-15 in a four-game sweep against the White Sox. Kansas City’s losing streak reached six games when it took an 8-2 loss on Sunday, and the skid matches its longest of the season.
Kansas City enters with a 4.69 team ERA, but very little of its pitching struggles can be attributed to Brad Keller (3-1, 1.93 ERA), who will start Monday.
Keller was originally going to start Sunday but was pushed back a day. He got a late start due to a bout with coronavirus but has allowed one run or less in four of his five starts this season, and three have been scoreless outings.
Keller’s only bad outing was a 9-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Aug. 24 when he allowed five runs in four innings, but he bounced back nicely Monday, allowing one run on three hits in 6 1/3 innings of a 2-1 win over Cleveland.
“I felt like they racked up my pitch count in the first inning,” Keller said. “I felt like I finally got into a groove, but not until the fourth, fifth or sixth inning. I was finally able to put the fastball where I wanted to.”
Keller took a no-decision while opposing Bieber when the Royals scored two in the eighth.
Keller is 2-1 with a 1.39 ERA in seven career appearances (five starts) against the Indians, including a 0.63 ERA in four appearances (two starts) in Cleveland.
The right-hander has allowed three hits or fewer in seven of his last eight starts, a span that began Aug. 14, 2019, and opponents are batting .181 (26-for-144) in that span.
Kansas City is 8-18 against the top three teams in the AL Central, and this series represents its last chance to play spoiler for any of those teams.
The Royals could be without Jorge Soler (right oblique soreness), who sat out Sunday after leaving Saturday’s loss early. He is considered day-to-day after going 1-for-14 in his last five games.
–Field Level Media