When they acquired him from Cleveland on March 27 for cash considerations, it was expected to be for long relief situations and to cover some innings. He is throwing so well for this club that he’s been used recently in some late-in-the-game high-leverage spots.
Over nine games, he has an ERA of 1.42 and a WHIP of 0.868. He has allowed eight hits and two runs over 12 2/3 innings. His last five outings have been scoreless, as have eight of his nine for the year.
“What he has done here is, I just started trusting him with the ball in big spots, middle to later part of the game, because he throws strikes and he’s getting guys out. Yeah, he’s been a pleasant surprise up to this point and I trust him in any kind of situation,” manager Brandon Hyde said via Zoom before last night’s game.
Plutko was made available via Zoom on Tuesday afternoon and discussed being part of an O’s bullpen that began Tuesday with the fifth-best ERA in the majors at 3.08. The ‘pen ERA was 1.41 over the past 10 games.
“I think one of the things that makes any bullpen work well is the accountability on the next guy up,” said Plutko, 29. “And I’ve felt that from top to bottom. You are not ever in a situation where you don’t trust the guy coming in behind you.”
Plutko said the trust O’s pitching coaches Chris Holt and Darren Holmes showed in him after the trade was meaningful
“They didn’t want to change a whole lot,” he said. “In a good way. In the sense that, you know, I’ve been successful before in the big leagues. It’s not like we needed to overhaul things. More just slight tweaks and mixing in things a little bit differently and hearing it in a different voice maybe.
“Familiarity breeds contempt, right? In some ways, I feel like Cleveland and I had known each other for so long that it wasn’t contentious, that is not what I’m saying. But it was almost just like, ‘He’s this, he’s this, he’s this.’ And then I got here and it’s like we think you can be that over there. I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s a breath of fresh air.’ I’m over here and you guys think I can be over there. That was definitely a breath of fresh air when I came over.”
The Indians drafted Plutko in round 11 of the 2013 draft after his college career that culminated with UCLA winning the College World Series in 2013 and Plutko was named the Most Outstanding Player for the Bruins. He was 2-2 with a 4.88 ERA for the 2020 Indians, making four starts among his 10 appearances.
The O’s pitching coaches did have some tweaks in mind when he got to Baltimore, but nothing major.
“Nothing super specific at all,” Plutko said. “Holty really liked my curveball and encouraged me to just throw with my best fastball delivery and change the mindset of not worrying so much if it has enough break to it. If it has this or that to it. Bringing it back to throwing a more similar fastball, you know I could always spin the ball. That is a strength of mine.”
And so is his cut fastball. It’s a real big pitch for him. That cutter produced a 27.5 whiff rate (swings divided by swings and misses on the pitch) last year. This season, he’s using the pitch 35 percent of the time and getting a 33.0 whiff rate and a .133 batting average against it.
“It’s continued to be a weapon for me,” he said. “In 2019, it got tagged as a slider and continued to get tagged as a slider even though I had made a firm switch to start throwing a cutter. So when I added back in a slider late in 2020, all the sudden it defined the cutter and the slider.
“Really from 2018 and before that and to 2019 and after that, my career and success in the majors has been a lot more consistent and the cutter is a huge part of that. The ability to treat it as a second fastball, it just gives me a ton of confidence to throw it whenever I want to. ... It’s one of those things, that, if you get it right and if you make it look like a fastball for as long as possible, you see (Travis) Lakins, you see (Shawn) Armstrong all throw cutters and it can be wildly successful if it keeps that fastball look to it.”
Plutko was traded from an organization that built some good pitching staffs with a big emphasis on analytics and he joined one looking to do something similar.
“They are comparable, for sure,” he said, comparing Cleveland and Baltimore. “Where it is just part of the fabric in Cleveland, I think it is becoming part of the fabric here. And it’s exciting to take that ride again, to take that journey. ... Now you are starting to see I think more and more of the players understand the analytics. And that’s how it was in Cleveland, where the players understood their numbers and analytics and definitely here the people are starting to get a better idea of who they are and what defines them as a pitcher.”