CLEVELAND — Zach Plesac has been tested over the first three starts of his major league career. He’s passed each with flying colors.
The rookie right-hander made a sparkling debut against the reigning World Series champion Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, then pitched well in front of around 100 family and friends against the White Sox in Chicago.
Friday night against the American League East-leading New York Yankees, Plesac delivered again, notching his first big league victory as the Indians opened the series with a 5-2 win in front of 31,531 fans at Progressive Field.
Carlos Santana’s two-run homer in the sixth inning broke a 2-2 tie to lift Cleveland to its third win in four games after taking two of three from Central Division-leading Minnesota.
Plesac, a 12th-round draft pick out of Ball State University in 2016, allowed two runs on six hits and struck out five over seven innings against a New York lineup that was averaging over five runs per game.
Both of the Yankees’ runs came in the first three innings. Plesac allowed only two hits over his last four innings, retiring 13 of the final 15 batters he faced.
“I wish I could sit up here and take credit,” manager Terry Francona said. “The player development people, I hope their chests are out a little bit ’cause they’re responsible for where this kid is at in his career. And now we’re watching him get better like right in front of our eyes.
“He threw some breaking balls tonight that were probably the best ones he’s thrown. He didn’t always follow the glove, but he’s aggressive enough with his fastball where he’ll stand you up a little bit, whether it’s by design or not, and his fastball plays a little bit more than what you see on the scoreboard. We don’t need to send him to Cooperstown yet, but we love what we see. The kid’s been phenomenal.”
The fact Plesac’s first win came against a storied franchise such as the Yankees wasn’t lost on him.
“Yeah, it’s awesome. I never could have dreamed it like this. It’s absolutely incredible,” said Plesac, who is just the third Indians pitcher to allow two runs or fewer in each of his first three starts.
Plesac said he got a text from his uncle Dan, a former big league pitcher and current MLB Network analyst before the game.
“He told me his first big league loss was to the Chicago White Sox and his first big league win was the New York Yankees. So people say history repeats itself. Man, it’s crazy.
“In Boston, I had my closest family and friends there and then we go to Chicago, my whole community is there and come here tonight and I got the whole city there. They were all there cheering for us. You can feel that. I really appreciate it and I felt it while I was on the mound and the fans out there were incredible and so it was a lot of fun.”
After going scoreless over the first three innings, the Indians broke through against Domingo German with a run in the fourth on a single from Jason Kipnis, who snapped an 0-for-21 skid with a base hit in the second.
Kipnis drove in a pair of runs, adding a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning.
Cleveland tied it on Tyler Naquin’s two-out solo shot to right field in the fifth before taking the lead for good on Santana’s team-leading 12th homer.
Oscar Mercado started the sixth inning with his second hit of the game and trotted home on Santana’s blast to the right-field seats that traveled an estimated 422 feet.
“Getting the game tied, especially at home, feels better. It is better,” Francona said. “And then, I think Mercado’s speed helped Santana. It’s something they have to respect. (German) was slide-stepping and he left a pitch up to Carlos.”
Right-hander Nick Wittgren worked a perfect eighth inning before turning it over to closer Brad Hand, who struck out the side — New York’s 3-5 hitters — to notch his 19th save in 19 opportunities.
Hand has a save in a career-high seven straight appearances, matching the Yankees’ Aroldis Chapman for the longest active streak in the majors.