Triston McKenzie has solidified his spot in the Cleveland Indians rotation
It was a tough start to the season for Cleveland Indians pitching prospect Triston McKenzie. A first round pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, McKenzie had long been considered one of the club’s top prospects. He was coming off a strong audition in 2020 and had high hopes for 2021. However, he saw a few bumps that had him sent down to Columbus.
It took some time for McKenzie to find his way, but the 23-year old starting pitcher, soon-to-be 24 on August 2, has found improvement in his craft. After his slow start to the season, McKenzie has started to settle in and it’s very possible he’s once again earned his spot in the starting rotation, even after everyone is back healthy.
In the month of July McKenzie has been able to show a bit more consistency. It isn’t every start, but that’s not going to happen for most 23-year old starting pitchers. Fans of the Cleveland Indians have been spoiled with the club’s pitching prospects finding immediate success over the last few seasons. Just because it’s taking McKenzie a bit longer doesn’t mean that the talent isn’t there.
In July, McKenzie has started a trio of games now and those appearances have been able to illustrate his season in a nutshell. However, the positive is that the good starts outweighed the bad. The better fortune has brought his season ERA down almost an entire run.
McKenzie began the month on July 9 against the Kansas City Royals and put together arguably the best start of his career, or at least this season. He was able to toss a season-high seven innings for the Tribe while not allowing a run. In fact, he allowed just one hit and walked only one as well. Opposing batters in that game couldn’t figure out McKenzie and he was able to tally nine strikeouts.
While Cleveland won that game, McKenzie unfortunately wasn’t able to get the win. However, his dominant performance on the mound allowed the team to pick up the 2-1 victory.
McKenzie’s next start didn’t go as smoothly, facing the Houston Astros on July 20. He gave up five runs over four innings plus. He allowed a single run in the first and third, but a fifth inning eruption is what hurt his stat line the most. Luckily, he was able to bounce back in his next start, something that hasn’t always happened, especially early in the season.
Going against the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that has proven to be Cleveland’s biggest kryptonite this season, McKenzie had another stellar outing. He tossed six innings and gave up just a pair of runs while striking out six. He again didn’t get the win, but like Kansas City, McKenzie’s outing is what allowed the Tribe to rally back. The best part about it, though, was for the third straight start, McKenzie walked just one batter.
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For a pitcher that struggled with the walks early, that’s the best sign of improvement the organization could have asked for. Entering July, McKenzie had walked 39 batters over 11 appearances, averaging 3.5 walks per outing or an average of over seven walks per nine innings.
In the month of July, McKenzie has walked just three batters over three starts, getting that walks per nine down to just 2.5 over the course of the month. If that can continue that would be a huge step for the young pitcher’s progression.
Over eight games during the 2020 season, six of which were starts, McKenzie flashed his potential with an ERA of 3.24 and an average of 11.3 strikeouts per nine. As it turns out, the key to that success was his 2.4 walks per nine.
What McKenzie is doing now is the closest we’ve seen him to that 2020 form this season. Since he’s been able to get his walks under control the rest of his game has followed. During the month of July his ERA is at 4.09, even with the blow-up against the Astros, and his walks per nine have settled back down to his 2020 form.
What’s interesting is that while McKenzie’s walks per nine have come down, so have his strikeouts per nine. After averaging 12.1 entering the month, he’s at just 9.8 in July. Perhaps he’s focusing more on just getting outs rather than striking out each batter. Whatever it is, it’s working. If he can keep this up, he should find himself back in the starting rotation where he started this season, even after everyone has returned from the injured list.