The Guardians came to play against the Tigers tonight, winning the series-opener by a score of 4-0. Plenty of performances are worthy of discussion, but make no mistake — Triston McKenzie owned the night as much as he owned the Tigers.
McKenzie needed only his four-seamer, slider, and curveball to dominate Detroit with a career-high 12 strikeouts tonight; his crowning performance as he heads into the All-Star break. With tonight’s eight-inning game in the books, he has allowed no earned runs and recorded 23 strikeouts over his last three starts. He also apparently earned the trust of his manager, as he was left in for the eighth inning despite approaching 100 pitches after the seventh. The trust was rewarded with three picture-perfect at-bats as the Progressive Field crowd excitement slowly swelled when it was clear he was locked in.
Whether he was striking out star rookie Riley Greene in four at-bats or finally keeping old friend Eric Haaser in check, McKenzie looked like a god among men out there. His curveball induced 10 whiffs on 17 swings and he didn’t issue a single walk in his eight innings. The only batter that had any success against him was Miguel Cabrera, who had a Tigers-high two hits and a few hard-hit balls.
Science hasn’t evolved enough for us to measure the level of “feeling it” a pitcher has, but it sure as hell looked like McKenzie was tonight. The spin on his fastball and curveball were up by 73 and 23 rpms, respectively, and the sharp break on his curve made it impossible to square up. Just an outstanding performance from someone who is pitching like he has a point to prove about not going to the All-Star game next week.
McKenzie’s performance tonight lowered his ERA a full 0.27 alone, from 3.47 at the start of the game to 3.20.
As for the rest of the team, Andrés Giménez is amazing. He started the game with a walk in the second inning, followed it up with a clutch, two-out RBI double in the third, and finished off the night with an eighth-inning solo shot for dessert.
It went by in a flash, but I also feel like we also shouldn’t take for granted how aware Giménez was to step back and let Amed Rosario make a play in the ninth inning when they were both going for the ball on a routine grounder. It’s not the most exciting play of the night — all he did was listen to his shortstop and get out of the way so Rosario could use the more optimal path for a throw to first base — but plays like that can go very wrong, very quickly with a bad defender. Just ask the Rockies.
Speaking of Rosario, the demise of his offensive abilities has been greatly exaggerated, apparently. He finished tonight with three hits, which marks his fifth multi-hit game in his last six starts. He also finished with two of the hardest-hit balls of the night — a 107 mph double in the fourth, and a 106.7 mph single in the seventh.
It wasn’t just Rosario, either. The Guardians offense tattooed the ball all night and they had the 13 hardest-hit balls, all hit above 101 mph. Just a clinic on hard-hitting baseball.
Josh Naylor took Tigers starting pitcher Elvin Rodriguez deep for the first run of the game in the second inning, and almost did it again in the fifth. The second shot ultimately faded just shy of the wall in center field, but it left Naylor’s bat at 106 mph and it came mere minutes after he came up from a play at first base tugging at his rib cage like he injured something. He gutted it out, flexed out the muscles a bit before his at-bat, and almost ripped his second home run of the game.
There should be no more “it’s just the Tigers” after we saw what can happen when you just assume you’ll beat them last week. Triston McKenzie was twirling pitches that would have beat any lineup tonight, and a few clutch hits came up big for a win that the Guardians desperately needed. Now get three more.