A 'very good day' for McKenzie, Cleveland

Righty's strong 6-inning outing gives Indians chance to rally and move back above .500

July 25th, 2021

CLEVELAND -- Just when it looked like ’s (and the bullpen’s) efforts were going to be wasted, the Indians’ offense stepped in to provide just enough run support to avoid a four-game sweep.

McKenzie turned in Cleveland’s fourth consecutive six-inning start Sunday and bounced back from his hiccup at Houston last Tuesday to give his team a solid opportunity to walk away with a victory. But when his offense went quiet after Cesar Hernandez’s leadoff homer in the first, it appeared as though he’d pick up his fifth loss of the season. Instead, he didn’t factor into the decision as the bats put together a rally in the eighth to claim a 3-2 victory over the Rays at Progressive Field, snapping a three-game skid.

“It shows character,” Indians acting manager DeMarlo Hale said. “They're not going to give up. There's some resiliency with these guys. … Probably the biggest thing is, you've got an off-day [Monday], and you feel good about yourself going into the off-day instead of being swept. Still a ways to go, but just a great effort if you talk about the phases of the game. We pitched, we got some timely at-bats. Good at-bats to scratch some runs across. For the most part, we picked up the ball and didn't shoot ourselves in the foot. Very good day.”

The best part of the day might have been witnessing McKenzie right the ship after a shaky start in Houston last Tuesday, when he allowed five runs on eight hits and one walk in four innings. McKenzie has had to battle through some difficulties this season, especially with his walk rate. But at times, he has demonstrated just how dominant his stuff can be. And on Sunday, he highlighted the curveball.

“He was around and in the zone with all of his pitches,” Hale said. “I made a comment to [pitching coach] Carl [Willis] in the third that he showed his breaking ball a little bit more, his curveball. I thought it was very effective. He got a few swings and misses on a couple of strikeouts. He was around the zone. In and out, up and down. I thought he not only threw but pitched the ball pretty well today against that lineup.”

McKenzie had turned to his curveball 17.2 percent of the time entering Sunday. But in the series finale against the Rays, he used it 28 percent of the time. Instead of relying on his heater as heavily as he has in the past, McKenzie said he found a better mix of heaters, sliders and, most importantly, curveballs. And that mix helped him issue just one walk for the third straight start, tying the longest such streak of his career without multiple free passes.

McKenzie's curve induced six whiffs, the most in one outing in his career. He fanned three batters with the pitch, tying his career high in a start, and the spin rate on his curveball jumped 136 rpms from his yearly average.

“I felt like in my Houston start ... I attacked the zone a lot, but there was times where I was ahead of guys into good-leverage counts for myself, and then I’d give them pitches in the zone that they’d be able to put in play and gets hits off of," McKenzie said. "I felt like today, the hits were a little more spread out, and I felt like when I needed to go out of the zone, especially when I was ahead of guys, I did that.”

McKenzie helped Cleveland (49-48) avoid falling below .500 for the first time since May 2, and he played a large part in helping the club snap its 11-game losing streak to the Rays that dated back to 2019. And for a team that’s desperately trying to remain in contention and that is 8 1/2 games back of the first-place White Sox in the American League Central, more signs that McKenzie is settling in can only help.

“I’m really happy for him, especially for the adjustments he’s made,” Cleveland outfielder Harold Ramirez said through team interpreter Agustin Rivero. “We know what he’s able to do out there. I’m really happy, not only for us, but also for the team, for seeing him make those changes the way he has.”