The Indians have taken much pride as an organization in keeping a clean clubhouse culture and doing things the right way. It’s part of the reason why Cleveland has endured success under Terry Francona, being one of baseball’s best with a combined regular season 380 victories from 2016-19.
That culture was thought to be more important than ever throughout the clubhouse in the preseason. In this unprecedented 60-game sprint due to the coronavirus pandemic, the organization held zoom sessions leading up to it to educate players and make them aware of the threat of COVID-19. The organization held preseason meetings to develop an organized code of conduct. It was being stressed in media sessions how having a focus both on and off the field was especially necessary to avoid any bad situations, like the ones we’ve seen from the Marlins and Cardinals thus far.
After all of that, Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger’s Saturday night out for some beers in Chicago has caused distractions and a broken trust in Cleveland’s clubhouse.
The Tribe looked flat in Tuesday’s 7-1 loss to the Cubs, and it was easy to see why from Adam Plutko’s postgame comments. The right-hander, who lost out on a rotation spot in summer camp to Plesac and was filling in for Clevinger in Tuesday’s start, did not hold back when asked what the two could do to regain the rest of the players’ trust.
“They hurt us bad. They lied to us,” Plutko said. “They sat here in front of you guys (the media) and publicly said things that they didn’t follow through on. It’s going to be up to them. It really is. I’ll let them sit here and tell you how they’re going to earn their trust back. I don’t need to put words in their mouths. The term that I continue to hear and excuse my language, is ‘grown ass man,’ right? So, those grown ass men can sit here and tell you guys what happened and tell you guys what they’re going to do to fix it, so I don’t need to do that for them.”
The comments from Plutko, who carries a voice in the clubhouse and is the Indians player rep in the MLB Players Association, come off as bold yet warranted. The team went through a pregame meeting with Francona and the staff at Progressive Field, then held a players-only meeting to discuss Clevinger and Plesac’s violations before Tuesday’s game.
“2020 is a year of distractions as far as playing baseball, that’s for sure,” Plutko added. “Dealing with what we did pregame, (it’s) not ideal. (It’s) not really what any of us want to talk about, or really what any of us want to think about. But the reality is that’s where we’re at right now. It was another distraction for us tonight. I’m not gonna say that that’s the difference-maker but it contributes. Of the 28 other teams playing games tonight, no other team had to deal with what we had to deal with tonight. It is what it is.”
Clevinger and Plesac will undergo COVID-19 testing on Wednesday, Indians President Chris Antonetti announced Tuesday in a pregame press conference. While the organization has no reason to believe the two pitchers were not in the presence of a COVID-19 positive individual in Chicago, Cleveland has still elected to keep them quarantined for 72 hours and has not given details on a return to the club. Antonetti noted that Clevinger and Plesac both being on the restricted list was the Indians’ decision as an organization, not any sort of a rule from Major League Baseball.
Based on Plutko’s comments, and the fact that Cleveland has set a rotation of Aaron Civale on Friday, Shane Bieber on Saturday and Plutko on Sunday, it doesn’t look like either Clevinger or Plesac will be heard from this week.
On the field, this stings in numerous ways. The Indians were held to two or fewer runs for the 11th time in 18 games on Tuesday. They are fortunate to be 10-8, and that’s because of a starting rotation that’s been the best in baseball. On Tuesday, the club’s streak of 17 games to start the season without allowing more than four runs in a game was snapped.
What’s jarring is the comments made by both pitchers in the preseason.
“This isn’t going to be a ‘run to daddy’ kind kind of thing,” Clevinger said then. “We’re going to handle it in-house. This is a player discipline thing. Keep the coaches, front office kind of out of it. It puts a little extra accountability, kind of. Just having that trust in your teammates is a big thing, I think. It’s a big thing on the field. If you feel your teammate doesn’t trust you off the field how are you going to feel like he trusts you when you get between the lines?”
“There are common sense situations, where you see things are packed, or going out to the bars and drinking — doing stuff like that isn’t stuff that’s really important to us right now and shouldn’t be important to us right now,” Plesac said then.
The salt to the wound is the fact that Clevinger doubled down, reportedly sticking up for Plesac in a team meeting Sunday and lying to his teammates by being around them, and flying back to Cleveland from Chicago.
It leaves the Indians clubhouse in a strange predicament, one that only gets magnified by the times we are living in, and the timing of the season.
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