McKenzie, Tribe not worried by velocity drop

September 20th, 2020

took the Major Leagues by storm in his debut on Aug. 22 against the Tigers, allowing one run in six innings with 10 strikeouts and a fastball averaging 94.5 mph. But after his sixth start on Saturday, his heater velocity averaged 3.9 mph slower than his first outing.

McKenzie’s average fastball velocity has dropped to 93.3 mph, 92.7 mph, 92.4 mph and 92.2 mph in each of his outings since his debut. In Saturday’s 5-2 loss to Detroit, the pitch sat around 90.6 mph.

“He was navigating through a lot of traffic,” temporary Indians manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said. “He had to labor a lot, and his velocity was not all there. He was throwing 89 mph. He fought hard and still pitched well.”

Four of the six hits McKenzie permitted on the night were off his fastball, but the 23-year-old still managed to give up only one run in four frames. With an 85-pitch limit in each start, he has only worked more than five innings twice. But even though he’s seen a dip in velocity, McKenzie isn’t concerned.

“A lot of just trying to find a rhythm with [catcher Roberto Pérez] … and in terms of getting my legs under me and getting my feet moving and towards the plate,” McKenzie said. “I don't think it was too bad in terms of letting up hits and letting that affect me.”

Only a month into his big league career, McKenzie said he realized just how much more he needs to learn. Prior to his debut, he hadn’t pitched in any game setting in two years due to injury and has never pitched at the Triple-A level. So despite any drops in velocity or other bumps in the road, Alomar has been impressed to see how McKenzie is evolving.

“Remember, McKenzie, he comes from an injury,” Alomar said. “He’s a very bright kid, competitor -- he’s pitching in Major League Baseball right now. He went from the other side to pitching in Major League Baseball, and he’s done a pretty good job. He just needs to trust himself and go out there and not shy away from the zone. He tends to be a little too picky. But he’s grown. Every outing, mentally, he’s getting better.”

McKenzie knows that each time he takes the mound, he’s going to be coming out of the game when his pitch count sits between 80 and 90 pitches. That’s why, even though he labored on Saturday, he’s still finding positives about the way he was able to work around his struggles to limit the Tigers to only one run.

“It was a conversation that I talked with the coaches about in between,” McKenzie said. “If I'm only going to get 85 pitches, making those 85 pitches [the best] I can and going out there and competing from pitch one to pitch whatever it is. I think I tried to do a good job of that [on Saturday].”