Nothing brings you back down to Earth from a fun name-reveal day quite like watching this Cleveland team play baseball. Tonight, in short, it was some bad mistakes, followed by a rally, followed by a full implosion. End scene.
Zach Plesac came out of the gate strong with a clean first inning, to which the offense responded by walking once and fizzling out immediately. In the top of the second, however, is where things got interesting. Or terrible, depending on your perspective.
Yandy Díaz (long may he reign) walked as the second batter of the inning, then Wander Franco singled to center. Nothing weird, everything’s fine. Let’s move long. Then comes Randy Arozarena, who hit a ball that seemed like a ho-hum single as it squeaked by Amed Rosario at shortstop, but it turned into so much more.
As Franco rounded second and prepared to dive into third, Oscar Mercado tried to fire a ball to José Ramírez and get a sneaky out. Ramírez whiffed on the catch completely and accidentally threw the ball behind him, which let Franco scramble to home. In a hurried attempt to stop that from happening, Ramírez tried to fire a rocket of his own to home plate, but it bounced early and went off the chest of Austin Hedges. That allowed Arozarena to score and I swear this isn’t something I just made up for comic relief. It wasn’t even funny. It just happened.
Little League home run, defined: pic.twitter.com/2oapZtB7QR— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) July 23, 2021
The whole debacle didn’t phase Plesac too much. He allowed a single and walk afterward, but got Ji-Man Choi to fly out and end the inning. Nelson Cruz, in his first game since being traded by the Twins, homered to lead off the third and that was the first point where it seemed like this game was going to be out of hand.
But Ramírez, perhaps atoning for his earlier mistakes, homered with two runners on in the bottom half of the third to bring the Guardians within one. After a few quiet innings, he also smacked a triple that scored Amed Rosario from first. So, for those keeping track, after he single-handedly allowed two runs to score, he made up for it by plating all four of Cleveland’s runs in their comeback attempt.
Even when José Ramírez goofs, he’s still the GOAT.
Plesac recovered from the early errors to turn in a solid 6.2 innings of pitching, but with just three strikeouts to two walks along with two earned runs. Plesac has started 12 games this season, and he hasn’t reached eight strikeouts once yet. His highest strikeout total came on May 7 against the Reds when he fanned seven.
The lack of sticky stuff hasn’t seemed to affect his pitches too much, though the spin on his curveball was down over 200 rpm tonight. Of the 99 pitches he threw to the Rays, 44 were four-seamers, 30 were changeups, 14 were sliders, and 11 were curveballs. His changeup wasn’t particularly elusive tonight — it was swung on 24 times and only whiffed on six.
It wasn’t Plesac’s greatest game ever, but he was hardly the problem tonight. That title goes to Nick Wittgren, who imploded like a dying star to the tune of six earned runs, one walk, and no strikeouts against six batters. He managed just one out and allowed three hits as what little momentum José Ramírez was able to generate by himself was gone within minutes.
Cleveland’s win expectancy when Nick Wittgren entered the game in the top of the ninth sat at a promising 41.8%. By the time he left — three hits, a walk, and a hit batter later — it was down to 1.7%.
Daniel Johnson added a lead-off home run in the bottom half of the ninth, but it was far too little too late.
The Guardians get two more shots over the weekend to try and not get swept.