McKenzie Shines as Tribe Knocks Off Tigers; Indians 6, Tigers 1

Triston McKenzie had a historic debut to remember as the 23-year-old right-hander allowed just one run on two hits with ten strikeouts and the Indians offense erupted for six runs over their final three innings at the plate to give Cleveland a 6-1 win on Saturday night from Progressive Field.

It was tough to predict how McKenzie was going to look on the mound for the Indians in the middle game of three against the Tigers. Making his first start in nearly two years after missing the entire 2019 season with a back injury, the young hurler got the call-up for the Indians and lived up to his billing as a top prospect in the Cleveland organization. He limited the Tigers to just two extra bases hits and a walk while striking out ten, putting him in rare company as just the 28th Major League pitcher to reach double digit strikeouts in his first big league appearance.

McKenzie faced the minimum over the first three innings. He got an impressive first career strikeout to close the first, getting future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera on a slider low and away to end that inning. JaCoby Jones walked with two outs in the second, but he was caught stealing by the cannon attached to Roberto Perez’s right shoulder. He recorded his third and fourth strikeouts of the night to close out the third inning.

The Indians had few answers early against left-hander Matthew Boyd, who followed the scouting report on the Tribe lineup by relying heavily on offspeed pitches. He stranded Francisco Lindor in the first (after his two-out double and an advance to third on a wild pitch) when he got Carlos Santana to ground to third. Boyd set down the Tribe in order in the second and worked around a two-out single by Cesar Hernandez in the bottom of the third.

Tribe’s first runs – Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Tigers got on the board in the fourth. Former Indians farmhand and McKenzie’s teammate at Double-A Akron, Willi Castro, pounced on a changeup down the middle and put a jolt in the ball, driving it 445 feet over all of the right field seating to put Detroit up by a 1-0 count.

Boyd got out of a mess in the home half. Lindor reached on an infield single past Boyd. One out later, Franmil Reyes blooped in a single between second baseman Jonathan Schoop and the center fielder Jones to put two on. Jordan Luplow was cut down swinging for the second out before Domingo Santana grounded out to third.

The hot Jeimer Candelario started the fifth with a drive off of the wall in left, rolling into second with a standup double. McKenzie showed his mettle, striking out the next three in order to leave a big runner on base.

Boyd retired the side in order in the bottom of the fifth and McKenzie added two more Ks in the sixth before the Indians finally struck through in the home half against Boyd and the Tigers bullpen. Jose Ramirez drew a leadoff walk and Lindor moved him to second with a single to right. C. Santana flied to right for the first out and the final batter of Boyd’s night. John Schreiber came on for manager Ron Gardenhire and struck out Reyes swinging for the second out before walking Luplow to load the bases. D. Santana engaged Schreiber in a long battle, sending the seventh pitch of his at bat back into left-center for a bases clearing double to put the Indians on top for the first time on the night, 3-1. Perez added to that lead with a single to left to score D. Santana to make it a 4-1 Indians’ lead. Bryan Garcia came on to get Greg Allen for the final out to prevent further damage.

McKenzie turned the game over to the bullpen for the seventh, now standing as the pitcher of record. Nick Wittgren worked a perfect seventh and James Karinchak followed with a 1-2-3 eighth, striking out a pair.

In between those solid relief efforts, the Indians added to their lead in the bottom of the seventh. Garcia allowed the first two to reach as Hernandez doubled and Ramirez singled to put two in scoring position. After Lindor lined to second, Garcia turned the game over to Kyle Funkhouser, but his first pitch to C. Santana was lofted to left, deep enough to score Hernandez to extend the Cleveland lead to 5-1. Funkhouser stopped the scoring there, despite giving up a single to Reyes, as he got Luplow to ground out to first to end the inning.

Funkhouser was tagged for another run in the bottom of the eighth. With two down, Allen singled and stole second. Hernandez singled to left-center before he was thrown out at second, but Allen scored safely to make it a 6-1 contest.

Adam Cimber entered for the ninth to get the final three outs for the Indians. He retired Isaac Paredes on a grounder to third before Victor Reyes doubled to left for the Tigers’ third hit of the night. Castro popped out to second on an 0-2 pitch and Cabrera grounded an 0-1 offering to third to drop the curtain on the evening.

McKenzie – Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Indians (17-10) got back into the win column, one night after a disappointing end to their six-game winning streak and 20-game winning stretch over Detroit. The Tigers (10-15) saw their brief return to the win column come to an end and are now 6-6 on the road this season.

McKenzie was masterful in his long anticipated big league debut. A pitcher with a lot of promise held back by persistent injuries over the last couple of years, he watched as others around him (chiefly Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac) capitalized on opportunities that should have gone his way had health not stood in the way. Finally with a chance of his own, he worked six innings of two-hit baseball, allowing a run and a walk while striking out ten batters. It marked the second-most strikeouts ever by an Indians pitcher (Luis Tiant, 11). He worked ahead throughout the night and had devastating swing-and-miss stuff. He left after six with the lead and his bullpen pitched three innings of one-hit relief to wrap up the three-hitter and secure his first career victory.

“I’m still floating about that right now,” McKenzie said of striking out Cabrera for his first career K. “Growing up in south Florida, he’s literally a living legend down there. To be able to face him and to strike him out, it’s huge for me.”

Boyd was a victim of bad circumstance. He pitched easily his best outing of the season, but he was handed his fourth loss of the campaign as he was charged with a pair of runs surrendered by Schreiber in relief. The left-hander Boyd worked five and one-third innings, allowing two runs on five hits with a walk and six strikeouts on 90 pitches. Schreiber was charged with two runs of his own on two hits with a walk and a strikeout, while both Garcia and Funkhouser were charged with runs in their efforts.

The top third of the Tribe lineup did the heavy lifting, as Hernandez, Ramirez, and Lindor combined for a 7-for-12 line at the plate with a walk, three runs scored, and a run batted in. The keystone combination each had three hits on the night. Reyes added two more hits to push his season average up to .305. D. Santana delivered the back-breaking blow with his three-run double off of Schreiber in the sixth.

Prior to the game, the Indians optioned outfielder Bradley Zimmer to the team’s alternate training site in Lake County to make room on the 28-man roster for McKenzie. Outfielder Delino DeShields left the game in the sixth after experiencing left hip soreness.

The Indians will look to claim a third straight series win in the finale from Progressive Field on Sunday afternoon. Right-hander Carlos Carrasco (2-2, 3.71 ERA) will look to cut back on the walks and get back into the win column against rookie left-hander Tarik Skubal (0-1, 18.00 ERA), who will make his second career start.

First pitch from downtown Cleveland is scheduled for 1:10 PM ET.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Bieber, Clevinger, Civale, Plesac and Mackenzie! Wow!
    Karnachak, Clase, Hill, Carrasco in pen in 2021.

    Everyday players left from 2020 should be C. Santana, R. Perez, Reyes and maybe Rameriz. Everyone else from Lindor trade, minor league system and free agents.

    Games with White Sox will become epics!

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