CLEVELAND, Ohio — An uptick in intensity went a long way for Triston McKenzie on Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium.
Pitching coach Carl Willis asked McKenzie to raise the focus of his bullpen session Sunday at Busch Stadium. He felt it would help the rookie right-hander prepare for his start against the Royals on Wednesday after he went just four innings against the Cardinals to start this trip on Friday.
It was hard to argue with the results. McKenzie pitched six scoreless innings and the Indians beat the Royals, 5-0, to head back to Cleveland with a 4-2 record on this trip and at the very least a share of first place in the AL Central.
Tyler Naquin provided the offense with a two-run homer in the second and a three-run homer in the ninth. Naquin’s three-hit night gave him six hits on this trip through Missouri. Four were home runs.
“He’s been unbelievable,” said acting manager Sandy Alomar. “He had five RBI tonight and his swing his the best I’ve seen it. He worked hard on his swing over the winter with Ty Van Burkleo and some of the guys in Cleveland and restructured it a little bit.”
Naquin hit a 2-0 pitch from Jakob Junis over the center field fence in the second for his third two-run homer on the trip. His three-run homer in the ninth came off Scott Barlow and turned a narrow 2-0 lead into a comfortable 5-0 margin.
McKenzie (2-0, 1.69) struck out six and allowed three hits in just his third big league start. He didn’t walk a batter as he threw 81 pitches, 54 (67%) for strikes.
“The St. Louis start was a rough one for me in terms of my command,” said McKenzie. “We talked talked about some stuff before hand about going into the bullpen session and trying to make it a little more game like so that when I got out there tonight I feel a little more comfortable with my pitches. I think it helped a little bit.”
The 6-5, 165-pound McKenzie, nicknamed Dr. Sticks in the minors, was supported by some top-notch defense. Delino DeShields kissed the center field fence to rob Maikel Franco of extra bases to start the second inning. In the fifth, with Kansas City runners on second and third and one out, Adalberto Mondesi sent a grounder to first. Carlos Santana stepped on the bag for one out and threw across the diamond to third baseman Jose Ramirez, who tagged out Ryan McBroom, who has wandered too far off the base.
Ramirez was spiked for his effort, but the inning was over on the 5-3 double play. The Indians turned three inning-ending double plays in the game.
“That was a huge double play,” said McKenzie. “The fact that Los (Santana) was able to stop that ball in the first place and then double the guy up at third was huge for me.”
Junis (0-1, 4.32) lasted just four innings. New outfielder Josh Naylor hit him on the right arm with a line drive in the fourth. Junis recovered and threw Naylor out to end the inning, but he was done for the night. He is 3-7 against the Indians.
The Indians finished with 10 hits. Franmil Reyes singled in the second and continued home on Naquin’s homer. The single gave Reyes eight straight hits in as many plate appearances.
Reyes ended the game with three hits as did Francisco Lindor, who has hit in eight straight games. Lindor started the ninth with a double off Barlow. Reyes followed with a one-out single to bring Naquin to the plate. He hit Barlow’s first pitch over the wall in right field.
“I don’t get the opportunity for those RBI without Frannie doing what he does, and Lindor and him doing it again later in the game,” said Naquin.
Naquin, in his last 12 games, is hitting .349 (15-for-43) with five doubles, four homers and 14 RBI. That included a 10-game hitting streak.
Reyes’ 10 hits in the three-game series is the most by an Indians hitter in a series since Mike Hargrove had 10 in three games against Boston in 1981.
McKenzie, Phil Maton, Nick Wittgren and Brad Hand combined on three-hitter for the Indians MLB leading sixth shutout. Maton, Wittgren and Hand combined for three scoreless innings. Only one Kansas City batter reached base in the last three innings.
“I think we have the talent in this locker room, and the guys are definitely showing it right now, that we can go out there and win day in and day out regardless of who is on the mound and who is at the plate,” said McKenzie. “I’m proud of these guys and I think we’re going to keep rolling.”
Catcher Roberto Perez left the game in the fifth inning with a sore right shoulder. He was on the injured list with a sore right shoulder from July 29 to Aug. 17. Alomar said Perez will get more tests on Thursday.
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