The Indians (93-68) were eliminated on Friday, which turned the last two games on their schedule into a head start on next spring’s Cactus League season in the Arizona desert. The first of those two games was played Saturday with the Indians losing, 10-7, to the Nationals at Nationals Park.
It was long, it was messy and it was interesting.
Adam Plutko’s final start of the season lasted just 1 1/3 innings. When he left the second inning was aflame. When Hunter Wood finally put out the blaze, the Nationals were leading, 9-0. On the second-to-last game of the season, Indians pitchers combined to give up their biggest inning of the season.
Plutko (7-5, 4.76) was charged with eight of the nine runs on seven hits and two walks. When Wood relieved he made it worse by allowing a grand slam to Gerardo Parra. It was Parra’s second hit of the inning and gave him eight RBI in two games against the Tribe.
Manager Terry Francona’s started his elimination lineup on Saturday — and it offered some clues to next season.
As Jordan Luplow has already shown, he can do some damage against left-handed pitching. In the fourth he hit a leadoff homer off Patrick Corbin (15-7, 3.25), who is one of the top left-handers in the big leagues. In the ninth, he displayed that talent again, homering off lefty Sean Doolittle. It was his 15th homer of the season, 14 coming against lefties. It also set the Indians’ franchise team home run record with 222.
“Luplow, since he’s come back (from Class AAA Columbus on April 28), has been a middle-of-the-order presence against left-handed pitching,” said Francona. “Does that grow into more? Who knows, but what he does for us is really important.”
Catcher Eric Haase, also in the fourth, hit a long three-run homer to center. Haase has 130 homers in the minors for the Tribe. This was his first one in the big leagues. Could he be Roberto Perez’s backup next year?
“So just to get that one out of the way, it’s great,” Haase said. “Most of my at-bats have been coming off the bench and it’s hard not to try and do too much.”
Jefry Rodriguez relieved Wood and pitched two decent innings against his old club. In particular he had an interesting duel with Yan Gomes in the fourth inning. The Indians traded Gomes to the Nationals in November in a salary dump. Rodriguez was one of the three players they received in return.
Rodriguez bailed the Tribe’s rotation out of trouble early in the season when it ran into injury problems. Then he went down with a right shoulder injury. But he looked good Saturday, retiring Gomes on a fly to left to end the fourth.
“When he gets a win under his belt, and works on his mechanics, gets healthy and sees some of that velocity creep back into his delivery," Francona said. “He’s going to be a very interesting guy.”
Bradley Zimmer, the Tribe’s opening day center fielder in 2018, made his first start since rejoining the Indians earlier this month. He batted leadoff and went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. Zimmer has a new stance at the plate and it’s probably unfair to judge him this late in the season after he missed most of the year with shoulder and oblique problems.
Mike Freeman, who has been a pleasant surprise in the utility role, entered the game as a pinch hitter in the third. He went 2-for-4 and it should be remembered that while most of the Tribe’s more celebrated hitters went cold on this critical swing through Chicago and Washington, D.C., Freeman was the one player who continually made solid contact.
“If you ask him, I’ll be he’ll tell you this is the most trust anyone has shown him in the big leagues,” Francona said.
Francona started Franmil Reyes in right field and the big man did OK. He also hammered a two-run homer in the fifth off Corbin. It was his 10th homer with the Indians and 37th of the season.
“It felt good,” said Reyes, about playing right field. “The adrenaline was different. When you go down there, you make good plays, the adrenaline is different when you come to hit than just sitting there (as a DH). It’s not the same.”
Francona has said that he doesn’t want Reyes, 24, to be strictly a DH and that will be a topic of discussion this winter. Reyes is in favor of that.
“That’s something that he told me since the first time I got here,” said Reyes. “I wouldn’t be surprised with that. I’m still young. I can still play in the outfield and I would be happy to be back there ... but I don’t like to just be sitting there in the DH spot.”
Plutko’s line read like this: 1 1/3 innings, seven runs, eight hits, two walks and three strikeouts. It was not the way he wanted to go out, but Plutko has put together a solid season. He not only pitched some meaningful innings for the Tribe’s battered rotation, but won some important games.
“I’ll look back on a lot of things,” Plutko said. “I think I helped us in the middle of a playoff race and kept us in it for a while. I’ll look back on this as the most fun I’ve ever had with this group of Indians in this clubhouse. ... I had a hell of a ride with these guys.”
Corbin and the Nats are going to host the Wild Card Game on Tuesday. But the Indians didn’t roll over against the left-hander. They tagged him for six runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings.
Indians right-hander Mike Clevinger (13-3, 2.39) is scheduled to start for the Indians in the regular season finale. The Nationals will go with Joe Ross (3-4, 5.90). Game time is 3:08 p.m. with TBS, STO and WLKR 95.3 FM carrying the game.