McKenzie finishes strong, ready for postseason

October 4th, 2022

CLEVELAND -- Guardians starter Triston McKenzie tried to use Monday night as a trial run for the postseason. 

Progressive Field may not have been packed and McKenzie may have been facing a team with a losing record, but that doesn’t mean his preparation for the playoffs couldn’t begin. And even though it ended in a 5-2, extra-innings loss to the Royals, McKenzie was able to show one last time that he’s ready for the bright lights. 

“I tried to use tonight as a tester,” McKenzie said. “There were a lot of nerves for everybody even moving into this last stretch of games before the playoffs. I was just trying to get my mind right for the playoffs and let myself know it was just another game.” 

McKenzie was a little slower out of the gate than he has been this season, but he began to cruise once he hit the third inning, as he retired 10 of the last 11 betters he faced. The righty permitted just one run on four hits with four strikeouts and no walks in five innings. 

“I thought he was crisp,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “I thought he spun the ball and he attacked with his fastball. On a normal night, he'd go out there for hopefully a few more. But I thought that was a good place to end it for him.”

The regular season is now in the rearview mirror for McKenzie, and the Guardians couldn’t have asked for much more from the young hurler. In 2020, McKenzie was solid in his brief time in the big leagues. In ‘21, he struggled with his command in the early weeks of the season, which prompted a demotion to Triple-A that lasted most of the summer. This year, it was time for McKenzie to prove why he had previously been a top prospect in Cleveland’s system, and he was able to do that and much more in 30 starts. 

McKenzie ends his season with a 2.96 ERA, becoming the first qualified Cleveland starter to boast a sub-3.00 ERA in his age 24 season or younger since Dennis Eckersley in 1975 (2.60, age 20). McKenzie has been stellar in the second half of the season, pitching to a 2.19 ERA in 17 starts since the beginning of July. His team has won 11 of those 17 contests. He came up just shy of the coveted 200-inning mark for a starter, finishing with 191 1/3 frames with 190 strikeouts and 44 walks.

Most importantly, McKenzie, who battled through his fair share of injuries throughout his Minor League career, stayed healthy all season long.

“Every year I prove to myself that I can compete at this level and I can compete day in and day out,” McKenzie said. “This year was a testament to that for me.”

McKenzie has competed so well that he’s lined up to start Game 2 of the Wild Card Series at Progressive Field later this week. He has 1 2/3 innings of playoff experience to lean on, pitching in relief in ‘20 in a loss to the Yankees, but this will be a different ordeal now that he’ll be the one making the start. That’s why he already started preparing himself for what Saturday night could feel like in his final regular season outing.

Cleveland is still waiting to find out if it’ll face Toronto, Seattle or Tampa Bay. If it ends up being the Rays who come to Northeast Ohio over the weekend, McKenzie knows that lineup well -- and vice versa -- considering he just faced Tampa Bay last week, giving up one run in six innings.

But if McKenzie can continue to pitch the way he has all season, the Guardians know he can put them in a solid position to win.

“Good young players grow and you kind of see it right in front of your eyes,” Francona said. “A lot of times with veterans, you're trying to get them to where they are and then hopefully they hold it. With younger guys, you're watching them get better. It's very satisfying.”