Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

Indians News

Cleveland tests out McKenzie in bullpen

Tribe players campaign for Ramírez to win MVP
@MandyBell02
September 23, 2020

CLEVELAND -- There's one week left until the postseason, and the Indians are ready to start experimenting with their pitching options. The Tribe already pushed Shane Bieber’s start (originally scheduled for Tuesday) to Wednesday to line up him and Zach Plesac for Games 1 and 2 of the American League

CLEVELAND -- There's one week left until the postseason, and the Indians are ready to start experimenting with their pitching options.

The Tribe already pushed Shane Bieber’s start (originally scheduled for Tuesday) to Wednesday to line up him and Zach Plesac for Games 1 and 2 of the American League Wild Card Series. Now, the next step will be to test out Triston McKenzie in the bullpen.

The Indians opted to go with a bullpen day in place of Bieber in Tuesday's 5-3 extra-innings walk-off win, opening with right-hander Cal Quantrill, who has starting experience. He pitched four scoreless in the victory. But the team is ready to fill some innings, and it hopes that McKenzie will be one of the arms used in relief against the White Sox.

“We have the opportunity to use him out of the 'pen to see how it may play and maybe determine if he would be a possibility to help us in the ‘pen,” Indians pitching coach Carl Willis said. “Obviously, this first [postseason] series, if we get there, a three-game series, we don’t need five starters ... so the potential of moving a couple of the guys to the bullpen is there. We just want to see how he reacts to it.”

The AL Wild Card Series consists of three games, which would likely be handed to starters Bieber, Plesac and Carlos Carrasco. McKenzie, currently the Tribe’s No. 5 starter, could be an optimal arm to shift into a bullpen role, at least for the first round of the postseason.

But McKenzie, who hadn’t started a game since August 2018 due to injuries, has watched his fastball velocity drop from 94.5 mph on Aug. 22 in his MLB debut to 90.7 mph in his sixth and most recent outing. The Indians are optimistic that if he isn’t pitching as many innings, that velocity could creep back up.

“You just can’t forget that he hasn’t competed in a couple of years and been on this routine of going out and competing every fifth or sixth day,” Willis said, “and that’s magnified by the case of him now competing at the Major League level when he’s been not able to compete over the last couple of years.

“He feels fine. I can assure you, when we started seeing a few 89s pop up there and more 90s, he’s being asked how he feels, and he feels good. But, I think just getting back into the routine of taking the ball and competing every fifth, sixth day, it’s taken a bit of a toll. He’s going to get beyond that, just with a shortened season here, I don’t know that he’ll get beyond it right now.”

Indians campaign for Ramírez to win MVP
José Ramírez’s bat has been red-hot over the past week, as the third baseman had launched six homers in his past six games, including a walk-off shot in the 10th inning on Tuesday that clinched a postseason spot for Cleveland. His performance shot him to the top of the Major League leaderboard in Wins Above Replacement (3.0), according to Fangraphs. The Tribe’s backup infielder, Mike Freeman, was the first to show his support.

“That was awesome. I went straight to him and I said that was a fantastic tweet,” Bieber said. “It was awesome. … He means a lot for this team, a ton to this clubhouse. I think that's just a tiny little excerpt about how important he is, both on and off the field. He's really shown it all season, but especially as of late.”

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