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Zach Plesac Shines in First Big-League Outing


Pete Cava
PBR Indiana Correspondent

At daybreak on May 28, 2019, only ten families could claim they’d sent more than one Indiana-born player to the majors.
 
That figure bumped up to 11 Tuesday night, after Zach Plesac took the mound for the Cleveland Indians in Boston against the defending World Series champion Red Sox. 
 
The 24-year-old Plesac, born in Crown PointInd., is the nephew of left-hander Dan Plesac, a Gary native who pitched for six big-league clubs.  Uncle Dan, who currently serves as an analyst for the MLB Network, won 65 and lost 71 with 158 saves and a 3.64 earned run average while pitching for the Brewers, Cubs, Pirates, Blue Jays, Diamondbacks and Phillies from 1986 to 2003.
 
Joe Plesac, Dan’s brother and Zach’s dad, was a second-round draft pick by the San Diego Padres in 1982.  Joe spent six seasons in the minors.
     
A right-hander like his father, Zach played baseball, football and basketball at Crown Point High School.  Coached by Steve Strayer, Plesac helped the Bulldogs baseball squad to a 27-4 mark in 2013, when they won sectional and regional titles.  The Hammond Times honored Zach as its Baseball Player of the Year.
 
From 2014 to 2016, Plesac pitched, played the outfield and served as a designated hitter for Rich Maloney at Ball State University.  He was Collegiate Baseball’s Freshman Pitcher of the Year in 2014 with 12-2 record, six saves and a 2.11 ERA.  As a sophomore in 2015, he led the Cardinals with 16 starts, 107.1 innings pitched, five wins, 77 strikeouts and a 3.27 ERA.
 
An elbow injury ended Plesac’s collegiate career in late April of 2016.  The Indians took him in the 12th round of the MLB Draft that June.  Still recovering from Tommy John surgery, he postponed his debut in organized ball until the following season.  Dividing the 2017 season between Lake County (low-A Midwest) and Mahoning Valley (short season New York-Penn), he had a combined 1-2 slate with a 2.47 ERA. 
 
In 22 starts last year for Lynchburg (high-A Carolina), the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Plesac won eight and lost five and posted a 4.04 ERA.  Promoted in September to Akron (AA Eastern), he started four games for the RubberDucks where he split a pair of decisions and had a 2.45 ERA.
 
Despite decent numbers – a 12-8 record and 3.45 ERA in 40 games over two minor league campaigns – Plesac wasn’t ranked among Cleveland’s top prospects heading into the 2019 season.  That changed after he went 1-1 with an 0.96 ERA in six starts for Akron.  On May 11, Cleveland promoted him to the Columbus (Ohio) of the Class AAA International League. 
 
Now just one step away from The Show, Plesac didn’t let up.  In three starts for the Clippers, he went 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA and fanned 22 batters in 20 innings.  With Corey Kluber and Mike Clevinger on the injured list and the rest of the staff stumbling, the Indians selected Plesac’s contract on Monday.  “It happened in a month and a half,” Zach told Cleveland.com’s Paul Hoynes.  “It could have been quicker, it could have been longer.  I’m just happy I’m here now.”
 
Some 20 members of the Plesac family traveled to Boston for Zach’s first big-league game.  Ron Plesac, Zach’s twin brother, made the trip from his home in Alaska
 
Back in Indiana, members of the current Crown Point High School baseball team gathered at a local restaurant with their parents to watch the game on a big-screen television.  The Bulldogs were fresh off a 6-0 triumph over Portage in Monday’s Class 4A sectional championship game.  Among them was Zach’s kid brother Frank, a junior pitcher/first baseman for Crown Point
 
While the players and their parents dined on Buffalo wings, Steve Strayer – now in his 17th year as the Bulldogs coach – called Plesac “probably the most competitive kid I’ve ever coached.”  Even Strayer, however, was amazed by Zach’s meteoric rise this season.  “We thought he would probably be moved up in August,” Strayer told Ryan Nilsson of the Northwest Indiana Times.  “Obviously, it’s a lot sooner.  It’s fun to watch.”
 
In his first major league game, Plesac was up against the Red Sox, former Cy Young Award winner David Price … and inclement weather.  The contest started in a drizzle with a 15mph wind blowing in from right field.  When Price threw the first pitch of the night, the temperature was a chilly 53 degrees.   
 
Plesac retired the Red Sox in order in the bottom of the first.  He fell behind in the count 3-1 against the second batter he faced, Rafael Devers, but bore down to register his first strikeout.
 
As puddles formed in the middle of the second inning, the umpires waved the players off the field.  The delay lasted 69 minutes, but neither starting pitcher showed any ill effects.  Price blanked the Indians for six innings before departing.  Plesac struck out two, walked one, and held Boston to three hits in five scoreless frames before giving up a one-out triple to Devers in the sixth. 
 
That ended Plesac’s night, and Cleveland manager Terry Francona summoned  A.J. Cole from the bullpen.  Before Cole could end the inning, Boston was up 3-0.  Cleveland scored twice in the eighth, but in the last half of the frame the Red Sox added a pair to go up 5-2.  The Indians rallied for five runs in the ninth for a 7-5 victory. 
 
Afterwards, Francona praised Plesac’s effort.  “I thought he accounted for himself really well,” the skipper told reporters.  ‘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, then there’s the delay.  He wasn’t scared.  He didn’t back down from anybody.”
 
Facing 20 batters, Plesac threw 86 pitches, 57 for strikes.  He said he rode a stationery bike in the clubhouse during the delay to stay warm.  “I was just trying to stay slow motion and kind of play it by ear,” he told The Associated Pres,  “I didn’t know when the tarp was coming off, didn’t know what the rain looked like.  I just stayed loose, stayed ready and was ready for game time.” 
 
Zach Plesac is the second Hoosier to break into the majors this season.  Utilityman Josh VanMeter, a Norwell, Ind., native who played for Norwell High School in Ossian, debuted with the Cincinnati Reds on May 5. 
 
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Along with the Plesacs, Indiana families with more than one big-league player include:
 
Fathers and Sons
 
Red Corriden (b. 1887, Logansport), infielder, Browns (1910), Tigers (1912), Cubs (1913-1915), and Johnny Corriden (b. 1916, Logansport), outfielder, Dodgers (1946). 
 
Pinky May (b. 1911, Laconia), third baseman, Phillies (1939-1943), and Milt May (b. 1950, Gary), catcher, Pirates (1970-1973), Astros (1974-1975), Tigers (1976-1979), White Sox (1979), Giants (1980-1983), Pirates (1983-1984).
 
Brothers
 
Grover Lowdermilk (b. 1885, Sandborn), pitcher, Cardinals (1909, 1911), Cubs (1912), Browns (1915), Tigers (1915-1916), Indians (1916), Browns (1917-1919), White Sox (1919-1920), and  Lou Lowdermilk(b, 1887, Sandborn), pitcher, Cardinals (1912).  
 
Cliff Daringer (b. 1885, Hayden), infielder, Kansas City Packers, Federal League (1914), and Rolla Daringer (b. 1888, Hayden), shortstop, Cardinals (1914-1915).
 
Bubbles Hargrove (b. 1892, New Haven), catcher, Cubs (1913-1915), Reds (1921-1928), Yankees (1930), and Pinky Hargrove (b. 1896, New Haven), catcher, Senators (1923-1925), Browns (1925-1926), Tigers (1928-1930), Senators (1930-1931), Braves (1932-1933).
 
Howard Farmer (b. Gary, 1966), pitcher, Expos (1990), and Mike Farmer (b. Gary, 1968), pitcher, Rockies (1996).
 
Tom Underwood (b. 1953, Kokomo), pitcher, Phillies (1974-1977), Cardinals (1977), Blue Jays (1978-1979), Yankees (1980-1981), Athletics (1981-1983), Orioles (1984), and Pat Underwood (b. 1957, Kokomo), pitcher, Tigers (1979-1983).
 
Andy Benes (b. 1967, Evansville), pitcher, Padres (1989-1995), Mariners (1995), Cardinals (1996-1997), Diamondbacks (1998-1999), Cardinals (2000-2002) and Alan Benes (b. Evansville, 1972), pitcher, Cardinals (1995-2001), Cubs (2002-2003), Rangers (2003). 
 
Cousins
 
Ed Hanyzewski (b. 1920, Union Mills), pitcher, Cubs (1942-1946), and Don Hanski (b. 1916, La Porte), first baseman, White Sox (1943-1944).
 
Bruce Barmes (b. 1929, Vincennes), outfielder, Senators (1953), and Clint Barmes (b. 1979, Vincennes), shortstop/second baseman, Rockies (2003-2010), Astros (2011), Pirates (2012-2014), Padres (2015).
 
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In addition, three more Indiana-born MLB players have had relatives born elsewhere who reached the majors:
 
Harl Vestin Maggert (b. 1883, Cromwell), outfielder, Pirates (1907), Athletics (1912), and his son Harl Warren Maggert (b. 1914, Los AngelesCalifornia), outfielder, Braves (1938).
 
Dizzy Trout (b. 1915, Sandcut), pitcher, Tigers (1939-1952), Red Sox (1952), Orioles (1957), and his son Steve Trout (b. 1957, Detroit, Michigan), pitcher, White Sox (1978-1982), Cubs (1983-1987), Yankees (1987), Mariners (1988-1989).
 
Drew Butera (b. 1983, Evansville), catcher, Twins (2010-2013), Dodgers (2013-2014), Angels (2015), Royals (2015-2018), Rockies (2018-2019), is the son of Sal Butera (b. 1952, Richmond Hill, New York), catcher, Twins (1980-1982), Tigers (1983), Expos (1984-1985), Reds (1986-1987), Twins (1987), Blue Jays (1988).  
  
Pete Cava is the author of “Tales From the Cubs Dugout” and “Indiana-Born Major League Baseball Players:  A Biographical Dictionary, 1871-2014.”