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Indians Pipeline

Tribe to unveil another vaunted SP prospect

McKenzie set for big league debut Saturday vs. Tigers
@MandyBell02
August 20, 2020

After a long year-and-a-half battle with injuries, Triston McKenzie's Major League debut is finally in sight. The Tribe’s No. 9 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, will get the start on Saturday against the Tigers at Progressive Field. “It's an exciting time,” Indians temporary manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said. “When you

After a long year-and-a-half battle with injuries, Triston McKenzie's Major League debut is finally in sight.

The Tribe’s No. 9 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, will get the start on Saturday against the Tigers at Progressive Field.

“It's an exciting time,” Indians temporary manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said. “When you get called up and they tell you you're going to be a starter, you're very excited. It's how you control your emotions and your excitement that help you through the game. I'm sure Triston is a very confident kid, and I think he'll do OK.”

The team had been able to get by with a four-man rotation for the past 12 days due to a few off-days, but it needed a fifth starter for Saturday. Both Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac still need to finish their minimum of 10 days at the alternate training site in Lake County, Ohio, before they can be recalled.

Indians pitching coach Carl Willis explained that Sam Hentges, Scott Moss, Jean Carlos Mejía and Logan Allen were all considered to make the start. But with the possibility of Allen needing to be used out of the bullpen on Thursday or Friday, the team decided to look to Lake County, and McKenzie, who’s stretched out to approximately 85 pitches, ended up being their choice.

“We want it to be as simple a game plan as possible,” Willis said. “Have him go out, take the mound and be confident in his strengths. We’re obviously very confident in those strengths. We don’t want to overload Triston or any young starter with information and cloud their thought process and have them try to do things that they’re probably going to be able to do in the future, but they’re not quite there yet. Because you do finish development at the Major League level. We’ll have a simple plan for him, and we’re really excited to be able to see him pitch.”

After posting a 2.68 ERA in 16 starts at Double-A Akron two years ago, McKenzie has yet to take the mound in a game since August 2018. He entered the '19 season as the Tribe’s No. 1 overall prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, but the 6-foot-5 righty suffered an upper back strain at the end of Spring Training before he strained a pectoral muscle that sidelined him for the rest of the year.

“On a whole, it was more of a learning experience,” McKenzie said in February. “It was obviously frustrating as a competitor, you’re not out there able to compete. But it was definitely a learning experience, and I think this year, I’m better for it.”

Now that McKenzie is healthy, the majority of the Indians’ big league coaching staff will be able to see him pitch live for the first time.

“Obviously, he has a tremendous fastball,” Willis said, “Great ride to his fastball and a curveball that he tunnels out of that fastball and creates some depth. He’s very adept at pitching a north-south type of game plan. He’s working on a slider to give him a little east-west attack and the changeup.”

The 23-year-old was added to the Tribe’s 60-man player pool when Summer Camp began in July. However, the Tribe immediately split its camps into two groups, with the players competing for a spot on the Major League roster showing up to Progressive Field every day and the rest of the prospects, including McKenzie, reporting to Lake County.

“I have to give him a lot of credit,” Willis said. “I know that in his outings at Lake County he doesn’t just go out and try to get hitters out. He is using the time to improve himself. He’s had situations there where he gets into counts and maybe he could blow a guy away with his fastball or bounce a curveball, but yet he’s throwing changeups, he’s throwing sliders. And it’s because he understands that when he takes this next step he’s going to have to be able to do those things. … A lot of maturity on Triston’s part.”

As a former catcher, what is Alomar's advice for McKenzie on Saturday?

“Basically, just be yourself,” Alomar said. “Trust yourself. This is just a different level. You've still gotta throw strikes, it's the same home plate, people stand the same. You're going to encounter more consistent players, but at the end of the day, you have to throw the ball over the plate so you have to have confidence in yourself and use what brought you to this point in the big leagues. Don't try to recreate somebody, just be yourself.”

Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.