May 28, 2019: Zach walked into the Indians’ clubhouse at Fenway Park following his Major League debut and found a handwritten note sitting at his locker. Who could have already written to the rookie so soon after his first career start? It came from someone who had seen it up close and personal: the opposing pitcher.
“David Price wrote me a letter and left it at my locker,” Plesac said. “He told me, ‘Congrats on your debut. Good luck, kid.’ It’s motivating. It means everything, really. It humbles me too at the same time.”
Hours earlier, as the rain poured down and drenched Fenway Park during the 7-5 Indians win, Plesac ran out to the pitcher’s mound, shrugging off the weather and absorbing the moment. The rookie righthander dug his cleats into the dirt to establish his footing, threw seven warmup pitches, shook his shoulders loose and wiped the mound with his feet. Three years after being drafted by the Indians, Plesac was ready for his debut.
“I was ecstatic,” Plesac said. “Emotions were everywhere. I was excited. First one [out], a little pressure eases off the shoulders a little bit,” Plesac said. “After the first one, I was like, ‘All right, we’re here. Out number one. Let’s get two.’ And just got locked back in.”
A rain delay lasting more than an hour interrupted the second inning and could have thrown off the momentum of a rookie pitcher in his first game, especially at Fenway. Plesac stayed loose during the delay by getting on the exercise bike and going in the cage.
“I thought he was very composed and competed like crazy,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “That’s what you ask. He’ll have his time to make adjustments and things like that, but he competed like crazy.”
The right-hander concluded his debut with a line of four hits, one earned run, one walk and two strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings. He threw 86 pitches (57 strikes) and his pitch velocity averaged 89.5 mph, according to Statcast.
“I thought he accounted for himself really well,” Francona said. “There was a lot thrown at him. He’s making his debut at Fenway, it’s raining, he doesn’t know if we’re going to start on time and then there’s a delay. He attacked with his fastball to both sides of the plate. He threw some good changeups. I think we knew his breaking ball’s a work in progress. But he wasn’t scared. He didn’t back down from anybody. There was some solid contact and he kept pumping strikes.”
Plesac shared his special day with around 20 friends and family at the park, including his twin brother, who traveled from Alaska for the occasion. His uncle, former Major Leaguer Dan Plesac, sent him well wishes before the game. He will save the note from Price, along with the scorecard and balls from his first pitch and first strikeout. It’s a personalized reminder of what he has achieved and the potential of what he wants to accomplish.
“I’m sure he’s just being the vet he is, taking care of the rookie here pitching my first game at Fenway,” Plesac said. “It was a class act. If he sees this, tell him I said, ‘Thank you.’” (J Camerato - MLB.com - May 28, 2019)
“He [Zach] was just saying, ‘What do you want to see?‘” Indians skipper Terry Francona said. “I said, ‘Hey, man, I’ll never talk to you about mechanics about pitching.‘ I said, ‘You just compete, but I’ll bet you pick someone off tonight.‘" He was right.
Plesac recorded his fifth pickoff in nine starts on July 17, 2019, catching Tigers center fielder Victor Reyes off guard after a leadoff walk in the first. “It saves me probably, you never know, five to 10 pitches an inning,” Plesac said. “It saves me pitching out of the stretch. So when I can get them, I’ll take them.”
It’s a move that he’s continued to perfect since high school, but the 24-year-old credits Double-A Akron pitching coach Tony Arnold for the way it’s developed over the last few months. “He really helped me get my feet right moving toward first base and having efficient movements and being as quick as I can,” Plesac said. “So I’ve got to give most of the credit to him.”
Plesac’s uncle, former Major Leaguer Dan Plesac, texted Francona when his nephew got his first call to the big leagues back in May to let him know that the righty had an impressive move.
“[He] said, ‘He’s got the quickest feet I’ve ever seen,’” Francona said. “Well, my uncle said I was a good hitter. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. But he’s got the quickest feet I’ve ever seen. Like you could sit in the dugout and you look and go, ‘This guy is in trouble out there. He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s in trouble.’ Then he picks him off.”
Plesac leads the Majors with his five pickoffs in his limited time [9 games] with the Tribe. He entered one of the most competitive starting rotations, as Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger are known for going head-to-head to outdo one another each time they take the mound, in hopes to take home the “King of the Hill” crown that’s awarded to the best starter of each series.
And while Plesac definitely takes the crown when it comes to the quickest pickoff move, he said he still enjoys strikeouts more than he does pickoffs. But he never tires of hearing his manager compliment the quickness of his feet.
“It means everything to me,” Plesac said. “I still think I can get a little better at it with my timing and things like that, but I’m just going to keep using it.” (Bell - mlb.com - 7/17/19)