Here are nine Walk-Off Thoughts after the Indians’ 5-0 win over the Royals on Wednesday night, bringing their season record to 23-14.
1. Through three starts in the big leagues, Triston McKenzie having to face major-league hitters for the first time hasn’t seemingly been his biggest obstacle. He just can’t seem to time his pregame routine properly.
McKenzie on Wednesday night turned in another gem, his second out of three starts since being promoted to the majors. Prior to this second outing, in St. Louis, McKenzie was too early and ended up sitting for more than half an hour. On Wednesday night in Kansas City, he was a little late and had to rush to the mound.
“That was completely unplanned,” McKenzie said on a Zoom call. “I was running a little late. I sat a long time before the St. Louis start and I tried to like time it a little better. Next time I’ll try to find that happy medium between sitting in the dugout for 35 minutes because we had a nice long inning or getting out there a little late. But I felt good when I went out there.”
2. Facing major league hitters has been a smoother transition. McKenzie against the Royals tossed six scoreless innings, allowing only three hits, zero walks and striking out six while retiring the first 10 batters he faced and taking a no-hitter into the fourth inning. In the first three outings of his career, McKenzie has tossed six scoreless innings and allowed three or fewer hits, becoming only the fourth Indians pitcher to accomplish that feat, joining Addie Joss (1902), Scott Lewis (2008) and Aaron Civale (2019). McKenzie also became the first pitcher in franchise history to allow three or fewer hits in his first three starts.
“He attacked. He didn’t walk anybody. He was under control,” said acting manager Sandy Alomar Jr. “He was the McKenzie we saw against the Tigers. He was composed and knew what he had to do and he executed his pitches. He didn’t fall behind in the count.”
3. Indians outfielder Tyler Naquin, who spent time at the alternate site with a toe injury, saw some of this coming. “He’s good, man. When I went down there after I hit that ball off my toe and had that toe injury, I faced him down there and it was live. It’s explosive,” Naquin said. “Everything’s sharp. He’s a good dude, man. Nice as they come and he works hard. It doesn’t surprise me the performances he’s putting up there. Good dude and he works hard. For me, it’s not surprising.”
4. McKenzie now owns two gems in his first three outings and a 1.69 ERA this season. After battling back and forearm injuries for roughly two years, he returned to health late last season and was able to spend this summer at the alternate site stringing together starts and being able to focus on his mechanics. His emergence is another factor in the Indians being able to trade a pitcher the caliber of Mike Clevinger to address only spots on the roster and acquire additional future value in the form of three prospects. For the time being and possibly for quite some time, McKenzie’s spot in the rotation is safe. McKenzie’s goal is to continue to treat each start as a learning experience.
“I mean the nerves are definitely still there beforehand. I don’t think that’s ever gonna go away,” he said. “But definitely going out there and feeling comfortable in terms of treating it as a learning experience and going out there and competing when mistakes happen and not getting too high and not getting too low and trusting the guys around me that they’ll be able to pick me up and I’ll be able to go deeper in the game and stuff like that.”
5. The Indians defense behind McKenzie had a banner day on Wednesday night, with a trio of highlight reel plays that all helped their 23-year-old, rookie starter to put up another six scoreless innings. Carlos Santana completed a double play with a head’s up play to fire to third (and utilize the arm of a former catcher) after catching Ryan McBroom too far off the base. Francisco Lindor made a tremendous, bare-handed play on a ball that went through McKenzie’s legs to retire Cam Gallagher the next inning — McKenzie joked that he just wanted Lindor to make the play himself. But the play of the night belonged to center fielder Delino DeShields.
6. DeShields in the second inning robbed Maikel Franco of extra bases. Franco drilled a ball to deep center field, hard enough that the Indians dugout assumed the ball was gone. McKenzie’s shoulders slumped, and he didn’t at first look back to see the ball’s trail. A few seconds later, DeShields flattened against the wall, made the catch and was able to hang onto the ball. For a moment, he resembled an old Wile E Coyote cartoon after running into a brick wall painted to look like a road.
“That was pretty impressive,” Alomar Jr. said. “We thought that ball was gone from the beginning but he kept running out there. I was like, “Where he’s going?’ It was unbelievable how he caught the ball completely flat to the fence. It was a perfect timing to catch that ball. If he’s there a little early, he might have missed it. If he’s there a little bit late, he might have missed it because the fence is there. So he had the perfect timing.”
7. Tyler Naquin’s torrid stretch picked up even more steam on Wednesday night, as he notched the second two-homer of his career and drove in all five runs. Naquin is now hitting .284 with an .882 OPS and a 126 wRC+, and he’s taken complete control of the No. 6 spot in the Indians’ lineup. Along with Franmil Reyes — who at one point collected a hit in his eighth consecutive at-bat dating back a few days, becoming the first Indians hitter to do so since Julio Franco in 1988 —it has been that part of the lineup which has powered the Indians lineup as of late.
“[Naquin has] been unbelievable,” Alomar Jr. said. “Five RBIs tonight. His swing is the best I’ve seen him. He worked this offseason with Ty Van Burkleo and some of the guys in Cleveland he kind of restructured his swing a little bit, so he’s being a little more efficient with his swing.”
8. Indians catcher Roberto Perez left Wednesday night’s game with right shoulder fatigue. He hit the injured list earlier this season with a right shoulder injury. He’ll be re-evaluated on Thursday to determine he’ll be day-to-day or if he’ll return to the injured list. The Indians have catchers Sandy Leon and Austin Hedges already on the roster.
9. Alomar Jr. continues to act as the team’s manager while Terry Francona recovers from a procedure after a blood clotting issue was discovered. No timetable has been set for Francona’s return to the dugout. When asked about when Francona might return, Alomar Jr. joked, “Hopefully yesterday.”
“I heard that he’s doing much better,” Alomar Jr. said. “He’s heading home and he’s in a state of recovery. So we’re looking forward to seeing him soon. I don’t know the exact date, but until then we’ll try to hold down the fort over here and do the best we can so he can get the team back the way he left it or hopefully even better.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read more about the Indians at www.beaconjournal.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.