Plutko allowed one run in seven innings on Saturday night, but the Indians were held scoreless for the eighth time this season in a 1-0 loss to the Royals at Progressive Field. The loss ended the Tribe’s six-game winning streak.
It was the first time the Indians have been shut out since Baltimore beat them 13-0 in consecutive games on June 28-29. They’ve gone 12-3 since, but their eight shutouts are the second most in the AL.
The Tribe (56-41) remained three games off the pace in the AL Central as the first place Twins fell to Oakland, 5-4. The A’s and Indians are both tied for the top two AL Wild Card positions, two games ahead of Tampa Bay and three games ahead of Boston.
In his last start Plutko (3-2, 4.81) allowed three homers in 5 1/3 innings in a no-decision against the Tigers. The homer hurt him again Saturday night as Hunter Dozier found the right field seats with two outs in the first.
But one run shouldn’t have been that much of an obstacle for an offense averaging close to six runs a game since June 4. Saturday night it was. Right-hander Jakob Junis had a lot to do with that.
The Indians didn’t do a thing against Junis (6-8, 4.83) in his six-inning start. That was not the case in consecutive starts against him on June 26 and July 2. The Tribe, in 10 2/3 innings, scored 10 earned runs on 15 hits against Junis in those two starts. Jake Bauers and Tyler Naquin homered off Junis on June 26.
No one came close to leaving the yard against Junis on Saturday night. He allowed two hits in six innings with three walks and seven strikeouts.
“Junis really slowed out bats down with his breaking ball,” manager Terry Francona said. “It seemed like he could go to it whenever he wanted to. He’d elevate his fastball for effect and go right back to it. He gave us fits.”
After Roberto Perez walked with one out in the second, the Indians had three baserunners the rest of the game. Carlos Santana walked and Jason Kipnis beat out an infield single with two out in the sixth. Junis struck out Jose Ramirez to end the inning.
Greg Allen doubled with two out in the seventh against Scott Barlow, but Naquin went down swinging to end the inning.
“It was his night,” Naquin said. "He made his pitches. Whenever he missed, we missed his mistakes. It happens. I feel bad for Plutko. He pitched his rear end off and we couldn’ get one run for him.
Plutko, who has allowed 14 homers in 48 2/3 innings, handled the Royals well after the first inning. Whit Merrifield reached with one out in the fourth on Plutko’s throwing error. He retired Alex Gordon and Dozier to keep the score at 1-0.
Cam Gallagher doubled with one out in the fifth, but Plutko retired Billy Hamilton and Merrifield on infield pop ups. Gallagher doubled again to start the eighth. When Hamilton fanned trying to bunt, Perez picked Gallagher off second.
“I though Adam was terrific,” Francona said. “On a night where you think it’s going to be a hitter friendly ballpark, he spotted the ball, located and changed speeds.”
It was 91 degrees at first pitch. It looked like a the kind of night that would be a hitter’s dream, but the pitchers ruled.
“Everybody was freaking out on hot it was going to be,” said Plutko. “I don’t know if it was like one of those things where your friend hypes up a restaurant and when go it’s not as good as you thought. Same thing here. I got out there and said, ‘All right, it’s warm, but it wasn’t out of control.’ A few ground balls helped.”
As for the Dozier’s homer, Plutko felt it might have been one of those balls that Commissioner Rob Manfred said has less drag than others.
“That was my thought immediately,” Plutko said. "You look back at the video. Roberto (Perez) put up the glove up and I threw the ball exactly where the glove was and he hit the ball exactly where we wanted it to go.
“I just think you have to roll with punches and keep moving forward,” he added. “f you give up another one, you give up another one. Hopefully, it’s a solo shot. But who cares, keep moving.”
Relievers Tyler Clippard and Nick Wittgren followed Plutko with a scoreless inning each. Wittgren walked walked Jorge Soler and allowed a single to center by Cheslor Cuthbert to start the ninth. Catcher Humberto Arteaga tried to advance the runners with a bunt, but he popped it up in front of the mound.
Wittgren let the bunt hit the ground and threw to third to start a 1-5-6 double play.
Ian Kennedy retired the Indians in order in the ninth for his 17th save.
The series finale at 1:10 p.m. on Sunday will feature Indians RHP rookie Zach Plesac (3-3, 3.56) vs. RHP Glen Sparkman (3-5, 4.54).
Plesac is looking for his fourth win of the season after taking a no-decision in each of his last two outings. He will face the Royals for the second time this month. On July 4 against KC, Plesac lasted just 2 2/3 innings and gave up a pair of earned runs while walking three batters. In his last start, Plesac pitched three no-hit innings against the Tigers on Monday but was unable to return after the two-hour rain delay.
Sparkman has not beaten the Indians in two career starts, including a June 25 outing that the Royals rallied to win at Progressive Field. Sparkman gave up home runs to Roberto Perez, Mike Freeman and Tyler Naquin in that game, but KC scored five times in the ninth against Brad Hand for an 8-6 win.