CLEVELAND, Ohio — Triston McKenzie continued to show the kind of growth and consistency that make him a budding ace Thursday with a career night in Cleveland’s 4-0 win against Detroit at Progressive Field.
The right-hander did not yield a walk, winning his third consecutive start and tossing eight shutout innings while scattering five hits and striking out a career-high 12 Tigers batters.
McKenzie also extended his scoreless innings streak to 21 frames without allowing a run on the heels of six shutout innings against Kansas City last week and seven scoreless against the Yankees in his start prior to that.
Detroit never really threatened against McKenzie, who entered the game with a 2-1 record and a 1.17 ERA in five prior starts against the Tigers. Miguel Cabrera’s second single of the night put runners at the corners with two out in the sixth, but McKenzie struck out Eric Haase on four pitches and let out a scream as he pounded his glove while walking off the mound.
He struck out two batters in each of his final two innings, exiting to a roaring ovation from fans as he gestured to those behind the Guardians dugout.
“It’s great,” McKenzie said of the ovation. “The fans really get into the game and I don’t think there’s a better feeling than walking off the field and hearing the fans chant for you.”
Catcher Austin Hedges said McKenzie had every pitch at his disposal because McKenzie’s fastball had a little something extra.
“He just had that special fastball,” Hedges said. “(Tigers second baseman Jonathan) Schoop was at second base telling me he just had that invisible fastball. When he’s got that thing going it’s deceptive in so many different ways. We can really throw that whenever we want.”
McKenzie’s 12 strikeouts marked his first double-digit strikeout effort of the season and fourth of his career, surpassing his 11 strikeouts against Detroit on Aug. 15 last season. Manager Terry Francona said prior to the game that McKenzie’s work this year on the days between his starts has made the difference compared to last season.
“He’s way more consistent, which I think leads to consistency on your fifth day,” Francona said. “That’s just a natural growth of good young players that are learning how good they can be.”
McKenzie (7-6, 3.20) said when he’s locked in on the mound, the goal is to put up zeroes on the scoreboard. But he was aware of how close he was to reaching his career high.
“Once I got to eight I told (Hedges) when I went out there for the seventh, I was like, ‘I want to go out there and strike out three guys,’” McKenzie said. “He told me not to worry about it and just go out there and get outs and that’s what we did but I was definitely out there trying for it.”
Cleveland jumped in front against Detroit rookie Elvin Rodríguez (0-3, 10.04) when Josh Naylor blasted his 12th home run on the first pitch he saw in the second. Consecutive hits by Steven Kwan and Amed Rosario set the table for a José Ramírez RBI single in the third, giving Ramírez an American League-high 69 runs driven in.
Francona said Naylor, who has fought to stay in the lineup through a series of back issues and muscle tweaks this week all while still recovering broken ankle that ended his season last year, has still been able to execute in big moments.
“He’s fought through probably more than most, but everybody this time of year is fighting through stuff,” Francona said. “But that was a pretty swing for sure.”
Andrés Giménez finished the third inning with an RBI double and added his 10th home run in the eighth, giving the All-Star 42 RBI. Giménez got a day off Wednesday after a brutal Chicago series that saw him hit by a pitch for the fourth time in 10 days. Francona said the day off was for physical reasons, but it can also help mentally.
“When a guy knows he can take a deep breath, I think sometimes that really helps,” Francona said.
Emmanuel Clase pitched a scoreless ninth in a non-save situation as Cleveland snapped a five-game losing skid against the Tigers after suffering a four-game sweep in Detroit last week.
McKenzie said he had no problem handing the ball over to the All-Star closer after tossing a career-high 109 pitches.
“In that situation I’m very comfortable having Clase come in and close the game,” McKenzie said. “There’s worse things that can happen. I don’t think him coming in behind me is on the top of that list.”
Next: The series continues Friday with a 7:10 p.m. first pitch from Progressive Field. The Guardians will send right-hander Zach Plesac (2-7, 3.89) to the mound, while Detroit counters with righty Drew Hutchison (1-4, 4.08). The game will air on Bally Sports Great Lakes, WTAM 1100 AM, WMMS 100.7 FM and the Guardians Radio Network.
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