CLEVELAND -- Sometimes, a player just needs to go back to square one, and the Indians are hoping if starter Triston McKenzie does that, he’ll be able to work through his recent command problems.
McKenzie’s ERA and walks-per-nine-innings ratio both soared to 6.89 and 8.6, respectively, after Friday’s shaky outing, which prompted the Indians to option him to Triple-A prior to Saturday’s contest. In a corresponding move, the team recalled reliever Kyle Nelson. Cleveland is still working through its options of who will replace McKenzie in the rotation.
“We just feel like for Triston’s development,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “we need to almost let him hit the reset and go back to Triple-A and build from the ground up and get himself in a position where he can help us win games. I think we felt like doing it here right now wasn’t happening.”
After Friday’s outing, McKenzie said that he’s been working on his delivery in between each of his starts to make sure his mechanics are repeatable when he toes the rubber in a game setting. But no matter how much he’s worked, it seems like most of his troubles have become internal.
McKenzie admitted on Friday that after walking a batter, it’s easier for his mindset to slip into, “Don’t let another one happen,” rather than, “Let’s attack this guy.” And that resulted in him owning a Major League-high 30 walks in 31 1/3 innings.
“We mostly asked him where he thought he was,” Francona said, of his discussion with McKenzie on Saturday morning. “Because that's ultimately what's important. And I think he felt like last night, the game sped up on him a little bit. I think we kind of saw that, too. That's why, doing it at Triple-A right now, where a Major League game's not sitting on your shoulders, should help him.”
The Indians have an inexperienced roster (the youngest one in the Majors), but the rotation may have even less experience than the rest of the roster. The starting five had very little experience (if any) in Triple-A before getting thrown into the big league rotation. Shane Bieber and Aaron Civale each had eight Triple-A starts, Zach Plesac had four and neither McKenzie nor Sam Hentges has thrown an inning in a Triple-A game.
“I think we’ve been extremely fortunate that guys like Civale and Plesac, they’ve been able to make the jump because it’s a lot to ask, and we know that,” Francona said. “We tried to remind Triston of that today. A lot of guys got to go back and figure some things out and get better, especially guys that missed innings at the upper levels.”
Now, the team is left to figure out who will take McKenzie’s spot in the rotation. On the active roster, the Indians have Jean Carlos Mejía and Cal Quantrill, but Quantrill is far from being stretched out enough to go deep into a game. Mejía was called up on Tuesday -- the day he was slated to start in Triple-A -- and worked 2 1/3 strong innings in his MLB debut on Friday.
“Some of it is gonna be dependent on how we get to Wednesday what we do,” Francona said.
It seems less likely the Indians would call someone else up to fill the vacancy. Both Kirk McCarty and Eli Morgan have gotten off to decent starts, Scott Moss has owned a 4.50 ERA in three starts, and Logan Allen (14.66 ERA) hasn’t gotten himself back on track to earn the call back up just yet.
“I don't think we felt like Logan would be a one-start fix,” Francona said. “Sometimes it takes time. And repetition is a really good thing.”
Diversity, equity and inclusion
The Indians have hired Matthew Grimes as the organization’s head of diversity, equity and inclusion. He will focus on developing a strategy that spans business and baseball operations in order to create an environment that is equitable and inclusive. Grimes comes from the Springfield Public School District in Massachusetts, where he worked with leaders and stakeholders across the district to develop strategy related to DEI. He returns to Cleveland after starting his career as a Spanish teacher, department chair, and Teach for America Corps Member at Cleveland Metropolitan School District.