After a back-and-forth four starts to his 2021 campaign, Triston McKenzie’s start this afternoon looked like it be another in the “pretty good” column through the first 1.2 innings.
McKenzie was dominant, aggressive, and accurate in the first frame. He fanned all three batters he faced, and his velocity was approaching 93. All good things. As Matt Underwood and Rick Manning put it, it was as if McKenzie came out of the game with the mentality of being aggressive in a relief outing. The hope was that he would find a way to maintain that over several innings.
Unfortunately, after four strikeouts and a pair of walks, things went off the rails quickly in the second inning.
McKenzie started the fatal frame by walking José Abreu — no big deal. Reigning MVP, good hitter. That’s fine. Then he struck out Yermín Mercedes and Luis Robert as a sign of good things to come.
Then he walked Yasmani Grandal.
Then Jake Lamb.
... then Leury Garcia.
At this point he had walked in a run and Cleveland’s dugout was scrambling to get arms warm in the bullpen. Then McKenzie gave up a grand slam to Tim Anderson and it was clear he wasn’t going to last very long. He did strike out Adam Eaton to finish off the inning, but the 23-year-old had already given up five runs and no clear feel for the strike zone.
He finished with a weird line: 2.0 IP, 5 ER, 4 BB, 6 SO. Normally if you get six outs, all on strikeouts, with only one ball in play, good things are happening. That’s not the case when you walk four and give up a grand slam.
McKenzie relied on his fastball 75% of the time, but he couldn’t seem to paint the top of the zone like he probably wanted to. Too many floated well out of the zone and caused him in loading the bases.
McKenzie’s issues up in the zone became very apparent in his final couple of batters. He got a few in the zone against Jake Lamb — arguably too in the zone, but he was just not even close with Leury Garcia at the plate, save for one pitch on 3-0 that he managed to paint at the knees.
Overall, though, I think McKenzie is going to be fine. And I don’t think Terry Francona or anyone else in the Cleveland organization was caught off guard by McKenzie having a short, work-in-progress kind of start. There’s a reason they have been pairing him with other starters or long relievers — they know not everyone can be Shane Bieber out of the gate. It’s only May and McKenzie is halfway to his career-high innings total in the majors.
Considering how this game started, the relievers that covered for McKenzie did a pretty solid job, too. Phil Maton, Cal Quantrill, Nick Sandlin, Nick Wittgren, and Kyle Nelson all pitched at least one inning, and the only runs allowed by the bullpen was some unfortunate sequencing on the part of Maton.
Sandlin’s MLB debut went about as stellar as you can hope from a promising young rookie who has fought through forearm surgery and a global pandemic to face one of the toughest lineups in baseball. He showed off his delightfully wonky delivery and ousted all three of the batters he faced.
Cleveland’s offense played too, but by the time they woke up, it was too late. Austin Hedges hit a bomb, Jake Bauers hit and walked, and Josh Naylor had two hits.
Yu Chang even had a hit — a bases-loaded single that scored two and put Cleveland on the board, down 5-2 at the time. Bauers made a weird decision to try and reach third with two outs, though and was thrown out by a mile to end the inning and any chance at a rally.
From that point forward, not including Hedges’ fifth-inning home run, Cleveland had just one baserunner when Naylor singled with two outs in the sixth inning. Jake Bauers struck out to end the inning.
To sum it up: the game was A. Bummer. Just like the White Sox’s closer.
- Naylor had the two hardest-hit balls of any Cleveland batter — a double and a flyout.
- Daniel Johnson led off with a couple of hard hits of his own. He came out of the gate swinging at the first pitch, and ultimately went 0-for-4.
Did I mention Austin Hedges homered? What in the world.
Tomorrow could be a disaster given Zach Plesac’s recent history with Chicago (both the city and the baseball team). He’ll take the hill opposite Lucas Giolito at 2:10 p.m. ET.