McKenzie 'gets the job done'; Tribe sweeps 

May 7th, 2021

While Indians starter didn’t have a “dominant” pitching performance against the Royals on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium, his day was a much-needed rebound from his last outing.

Despite coming off a two-inning, five-run start against the White Sox on Saturday, in addition to pitching to a catcher who’d never been behind the plate for him before, McKenzie earned his best start of the season -- and one of his best in a Cleveland uniform.

McKenzie allowed just two hits -- one on a leadoff single by Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield -- and walked four in five innings, and he pitched into the sixth inning for the first time in a start this season. His outing held Kansas City at bay long enough to hand the ball off to Cleveland’s bullpen, which held the Royals scoreless for the second straight day to earn a 4-0 win and secure a four-game sweep.

“Probably the farthest [McKenzie has] gotten us into a game, and he kept them off the scoreboard,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “[He] gives up a first-batter hit and then, other than some walks, really kept them off the bases.”

“I think he was calm. His curveball was good, slider was good. Threw some really good changeups,” said catcher , who had three hits in his Cleveland debut. “I think overall his composure up there was nice. He worked fast too, and he got the job done.”

In his last start, on Saturday, McKenzie barely made it through two innings after giving up five runs on four walks and a grand slam in the second. The four walks through two innings raised his walks-per-nine ratio to 8.68, which offset the fact that the slam was the only hit he allowed.

Thursday brought a much different -- and better -- story for McKenzie.

McKenzie threw first-pitch strikes to 13 of the 21 Royals batters he faced -- not an elite number, but a positive flip from his 2-for-9 performance against Chicago. Of the eight batters he didn’t start off with a strike, only two reached base, and he came back to strike out two others.

After Saturday, McKenzie had said that he needed to do a better job of attacking hitters, and not falling behind in the count is a key aspect of that. With that goal in mind throughout his appearance on Thursday, he delivered.

“Just making sure [that], as well as attacking the top of the zone, I was attacking the bottom of the zone too,” McKenzie said. “I felt like I gave up a hit early to Merrifield and then that kind of locked me in, and then instead of focusing on trying to strike guys out, [I was] making sure I let my defense work behind me.

“Even when I fell behind guys, there was a lot more urgency to kind of get back into the count and to kind of let them put the bat on the ball. I feel like there was some situations where I was behind in the count and they kind of bailed me out.”

Behind McKenzie, the Indians outplayed the Royals from start to finish. Rivera, shortstop and center fielder combined for eight of Cleveland’s 11 hits on the day, with Rosario’s RBI single in the second inning giving the Indians a lead that they never relinquished. For a team that had to pull off comeback wins in each of its first three games of the series, getting ahead early -- and staying ahead -- was a nice change of pace.

The win gave Cleveland its first four-game sweep of the Royals in Kansas City, and its first four-game sweep in Kansas City since the A’s were still in town. It also capped off a 6-1 road trip for the Indians, who came into the trip in third place in the American League Central, but leave in sole possession of first.

“It just shows the kind of players and team we have,” McKenzie said. “I feel like early on, everybody [was] like, 'Oh, they're not gonna hit. They can't do this, they can't do that.' And I feel like this road trip we really proved the type of team that we can be.”