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Hard work paying off for Triston McKenzie ahead of Indians debut

Injuries and a pandemic weren’t about to keep the former first rounder from making it to the big leagues

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MLB: Cleveland Indians-Media Day Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

“A lot of it is just hard work, practice, and repetition.”

That’s the advice Triston McKenzie gave to a member of the Boys and Girls club about how to be good at baseball. “I think that that’s how I got to where I’m at now, and I think that’s how all the guys that you see on TV — I think that’s how they got to where they are at, and they still work to this day.”

The 2015 first-round draft pick dazzled scouts and fans alike as he surged through the Indians’ system. He opened his career with a 0.75 ERA in Rookie Ball at age 17, then advanced to Low-A Lake County by the end of 2016. An excellent showing in High-A Lynchburg boosted him to Double-A Akron in 2018 at the age of 20 where he excelled with an ERA of 2.68 and a WHIP of 1.01.

If a mantra of hard work, practice, and repetition fueled that progression through the Indians’ minor league system, then its importance doubled in the past two years as he’s battled to rehabilitate from injury. He missed the entire 2019 season with various injuries to muscles in his back and chest, and much of 2018 with a forearm injury.

Given those delays we might add patience to McKenzie’s list. “I kind of had to sit back and learn how much the game means to me and what I needed to do, day in and day out, both on and off the field,” McKenzie said to Gerard Gilberto earlier this summer when describing his rehab. “Whether that be in the weight room or the training room, on the field, getting my sleep right, eating right, just so that I can be healthy and go out there and play.”

Even after reporting to spring training in full health, fate tested his patience again. “I was scheduled to throw in like my first actual game in spring training, and it ended up getting rained out in Arizona, which was very surprising,” McKenzie told Gilberto.

As a result, McKenzie stayed in Arizona for a while during the COVID-19 shutdown before migrating to the Cressey Sports Performance center in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. CSP served as an oasis for major league players to secretly scrimmage and work out during the shutdown. When baseball finally returned, he ventured to Lake County with the rest of the players selected for the extended 60-man roster.

Once the top prospect in the Tribe system, he’s become somewhat of a mysterious afterthought due to his extended absence from the mound. Two years makes it easy to forget exactly how exciting he looked when he first broke into the system.

Easy to forget until today. He makes his first start at the major league level despite never making a stop in Triple-A Columbus. While fired up and ready to go, McKenzie hasn’t forgotten about the support he’s received.

And maybe — just maybe — he can prove that one of his friends is psychic.