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Triston McKenzie dominates Twins in season debut

Dr. Sticks struck out 10 batters in a 2-1 win

MLB: Cleveland Guardians at Minnesota Twins Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Triston McKenzie has been around the block for a few seasons, so he knows the deal. As a Guardians pitcher either you’re near-perfect or you lose. So today, with a pitch count and in his first start of the season, he went out there and was nearly perfect.

Making his season debut in 90-degree weather, McKenzie leaned heavily on his four-seamer (49 times), also but mixed in a few curveballs (16) and sliders (14). The big break you have come to know and love from his breaking balls was there, although the velocity on his four-seamer was lacking toward the end. But again, it’s a guy making his season debut in torrid conditions where his last rehab outing was cut short by rain.

So while McKenzie’s velocity peaked and valleyed throughout the game — averaging 92.9 and maxing out at 95.1 — he was able to strike out 10 Twins batters and he allowed just one hit and one walk in his five innings. It wasn’t even like there were a lot of balls hit hard at defenders, he was simply dominant out there. If there is a knock — or at least something to watch for his next start — it’s that he was getting tired toward the end and had to work out of some deep counts.

The Guardians offense was a non-factor for all but one inning when Josh Naylor and Andrés Giménez hit back-to-back doubles to give them a 2-0 lead. That came in the seventh with two outs, immediately following a Twins mound visit. I don’t know what Minnesota’s coaches did to take Joe Ryan off his game before his potential final out, but I thank them for it.

On the plus side, I guess, they put plenty of balls in play. It just so happens most of them were popped straight up into the air. Some of their half-innings were over so quickly that I wonder if it factored into McKenzie being so gassed by the fifth inning. If you sneezed and blinked too long you might have missed them — that can’t help a pitcher who just needs a minute to sit and collect himself.

Backing up McKenzie was a bullpen that bent but didn’t completely break. Terry Francona brought out his four best relievers to back up the return of his star pitcher, but only Trevor Stephen looked solid for his entire outing. James Karinchak gave up a lead-off hit in the sixth but worked out of it, Enyel De Los Santos gave up a home run, and Emmanuel Clase teetered on the edge of blowing the lead in the ninth. All four locked it down when they needed to, though, and the result was a 2-1 win and a 2-2 series split against the Twins.