A gem of an outing last Tuesday by Lynchburg starter Triston McKenzie caught the eyes of all of minor league baseball and the Carolina League rewarded his efforts by naming him the league’s Pitcher of the Week for games played between May 8 and May 14.
The 19-year-old right-hander made just one start during the week, but he made his mark in a dominating effort at home against the Carolina Mudcats that he will likely remember for some time.
Making his second start against the Mudcats this season and coming off of seven scoreless innings at home against Winston-Salem in his previous start, McKenzie walked the first batter of the game and then ran into few problems the rest of the day. He responded to the free pass by striking out each of the next six batters that he faced to wrap up the first and second innings unscathed.
With a two-run lead gained after a solo homer from Ka’ai Tom and an RBI-single by Martin Cervenka in the bottom of the first, McKenzie pitched with ease. He got a pop out, a ground out, and a strikeout in the third. The only other base runner after the walk in the first reached on a single with one out in the fourth, after a strikeout to start the inning. He struck out the next batter and got out of the inning on a caught stealing.
The final two outs of the fifth were retired on strikeouts after a flyout to start the inning and he struck out the side in the sixth for the second time in the ball game in his final inning of work, leaving the mound with a 3-0 lead at the time. The Hillcats would put up one more run in the bottom of the frame and Carolina would get a run off of the Lynchburg bullpen in the top of the seventh, but the home team would come away victorious with a 4-1 win.
In earning his third win of the campaign, McKenzie pitched six innings and allowed just one hit and one walk while retiring 18 of the 19 men that he faced, leaving only the leadoff batter on base in the first. He struck out a professional career-high 14 in the start, exceeding his previous best of 11 established on August 5 last season while pitching with Class-A Lake County.
McKenzie improved to 3-2 on the season with the win and saw his ERA drop to 1.95 and his WHIP shrink to 0.99. He has struck out 44 batters and walked 12 with 20 hits allowed over 32 1/3 innings in six starts in his first season at the High-A level.
The right-hander entered the Cleveland Indians organization when he was selected with one of the club’s competitive balance draft picks in the 2015 June amateur draft as the 42nd overall pick. He debuted with four games in the Arizona League that season before splitting time between short-season Mahoning Valley (4-3, 0.55 ERA, 0.95 WHIP in nine starts) and Lake County (2-2, 3.18, 0.97 in six starts). Despite having a small work load in his first two seasons with the club, the teenager started his season in Virginia and has allowed two earned runs or less in five of his six starts and has fired back-to-back quality starts.
The award for McKenzie comes just one week after the Carolina League named former Hillcats lefty Thomas Pannone as the Pitcher of the Month of April for his work with the club prior to his promotion to Double-A Akron earlier this month. Infielder Sam Haggerty was named the Player of the Week the previous week.
Photo: Ashley Stephenson/Lynchburg Hillcats