CLEVELAND -- Yet another wrench has been thrown in the Indians’ rotation plans. But this time, the team is hoping this is an easier problem to navigate.
Right-hander Triston McKenzie wasn’t recovering as quickly as he’s used to after his stellar start against the Angels on Saturday. He came to the ballpark on Wednesday feeling OK, but when Cleveland learned that there was any hesitation at all, the club didn’t want to take a risk. McKenzie was placed on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder fatigue, but it isn't expected to be a lengthy stint.
“He feels good overall,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “He actually feels really good coming into the ballpark today, but we thought it made sense for a lot of reasons just to give him some time. So we expect it to be a relatively short time on the injured list.”
McKenzie has evolved into an elite starter after spending so much of the beginning of this season seemingly lost on the rubber. Over his last two outings, he’s allowed one run with 19 strikeouts and just one walk across 15 innings.
“The way in which he’s attacked the zone has really improved over the course of the second half of the season,” Antonetti said. “The way he’s utilized his pitches, sequencing, all that has improved. But overall, I would say, just his mindset and aggressiveness probably stand out the most.”
For McKenzie to enter the offseason with the confidence he’s built in this quick turnaround will be helpful as he heads into 2022. But because of his history with injuries and the fact that he’s reached the second-most innings pitched (91 1/3) in his professional career, trailing his 143 frames in 2017 with Class A Advanced Lynchburg, there’s no harm in slowing him down and forcing him to miss a start or two.
McKenzie could be back in time to rejoin a stronger, healthier rotation with Aaron Civale back in the mix. Civale is slated to make his second rehab start on Friday with High-A Lake County and will stretch out to the 55-pitch range. From there, Cleveland will need to determine if another rehab start is necessary. But with the 26-man rosters expanding to 28 spots on Sept. 1, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Civale back in the mix next week.
“Most importantly, we want to make sure we bring him back at the right time,” Antonetti said, “where he feels fully healthy and confident that he can go out and have a successful outing and help the team win. If that’s after two more or three more, we’ll have to see.”
In the meantime, the Indians will continue to lean on Sam Hentges and may turn to Logan Allen, who was recalled from Triple-A Columbus to take McKenzie’s spot on the active roster. Hentges will try to take advantage of the opportunity to get back in the rotation and show what he can be moving forward after he was moved to the bullpen following his rocky starting experience.
“I thought he threw the ball pretty good,” acting manager DeMarlo Hale said of Hentges, who logged four innings and threw 61 pitches against the Angels on Friday. “He was on a pitch count. Now, I think he’s able to hop up another 15 or 17 pitches.”
Manager Terry Francona has been recovering from his hip surgery and is now preparing to undergo a procedure on his left foot, which suffered a staph infection last offseason. In the meantime, he’s been able to do some of his recovery at Progressive Field and has watched a few innings of the last couple of games with the team’s front-office personnel.
“Yeah, everything's progressing really well,” Antonetti said of Francona’s condition. “His mindset now is looking really healthy and positive. I think he's excited about continuing to take steps forward and getting better.”