Cleveland Indians: Triston McKenzie looks improved in scoreless start

Triston McKenzie #24 of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
Triston McKenzie #24 of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images) /
Cleveland Indians, Triston McKenzie
Triston McKenzie #24 of the Cleveland Indians (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images) /

Triston McKenzie looks improved in scoreless start for Cleveland Indians

After the Cleveland Indians sent Triston McKenzie down to Triple-A Columbus on Saturday (May 22), he was quickly recalled just four days later and asked to start against the Detroit Tigers. With Zach Plesac heading to the Injured List, McKenzie could be asked to return to the majors once again for an extended stay, despite his recent struggles. Luckily, his start after being called up was possibly his best of the season, if not of his young major league career.

For McKenzie, it was a rough start to the 2021 season, working his ERA as high as 6.89 at the time that the Tribe sent him down. He allowed five runs or more in three of his last four starts at the time of the move, but his biggest weakness was walks. Over his first eight starts of the season, McKenzie walked at least two batters in each game and even walked four or more in six of the eight starts.

It really goes without saying that McKenzie’s move down to Columbus was warranted. He tossed five innings in a start just twice and his walks were concerning. However, new circumstances brought on by Plesac’s injury offered a second chance for McKenzie before he even pitched a game for Columbus. And he used that second chance very well.

Going up against the Detroit Tigers was a great opportunity for McKenzie. While he hadn’t faced them yet this year, McKenzie pitched against Detroit twice in 2020 and allowed just one run in each outing. The Tigers were also a team that McKenzie had been able to limit the walks against, having no more than three in either appearance.

As for this time, it wasn’t much different for Triston McKenzie as he reclaimed his spot on the mound for the Cleveland Indians. While the Tribe ended up losing the game, McKenzie wasn’t the reason. He was able to toss a strong start that setup the bullpen to use just Cal Quantrill in the game, saving them for later in the week if needed.

In total, McKenzie was able to throw five scoreless innings for the Tribe, giving up just one hit over the duration of his time in the game. He even took a no-hitter into the fifth inning and was able to strike out five and walk just three batters, making for one of his best starts of the season.

Now, McKenzie will go back down to Columbus after the start before returning to the roster on Monday for the double-header against the Chicago White Sox, serving as the extra man on the roster for Cleveland. McKenzie will go down so a starter can be called up for Friday’s game that was previously set to be Plesac. Even so, this was a strong start for McKenzie and one that will help make a case for him to get back to the major leagues full-time in the absence of Plesac and maybe even beyond.

However, this isn’t the first time that McKenzie has been able to accomplish a scoreless start. Back on May 6 he pitched five scoreless innings against the Kansas City Royals in his one win of the season, but in that start he allowed two hits and walked four batters, one more of each than he did against the Tigers.

The key for McKenzie will be showing that this wasn’t a fluke. After that start against the Royals, he gave up five runs to the Mariners and six runs to the Twins in his next two starts resulting in him being sent down. It sounds like he will get that opportunity on Monday against the White Sox.

In the big picture, this start for McKenzie could maybe be a turning point. He looked in control of his pitches and was able to throw one of his lowest totals for walks in a start this year, the first time this season having three or fewer walks in a start of five innings or more.

Given the current state of the starting rotation for the Cleveland Indians, there’s a good chance he will have more opportunities to show his stuff and how he’s improving on his craft. If he can continue to pitch the way he did against the Tigers, he shouldn’t have a problem reclaiming his spot on the active roster. Unfortunately, that might be a big if.

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