Triston McKenzie's season began with disappointment but wrapped up with a flourish.
Cleveland's top-ranked prospect pitched six shutout innings as Double-A Akron fell to Bowie, 4-0, at Canal Park. He scattered four hits and two walks while striking out four.
"I was told beforehand, that just how it was getting shaped up, that I would throw the last game of this homestand, then we'd have the four games on the road and seeing how playoffs went, I'd probably start that first game or somewhere within that first couple," McKenzie said.
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The 2015 first-round pick experienced right forearm soreness coming out of Spring Training and was sidelined until his Double-A debut on June 7. But from McKenzie's first start that night -- in which he delivered five one-hit innings against New Hampshire -- he has produced 15 largely successful starts.
After an easy first inning Thursday, the right-hander ran into some trouble in the second, allowing a single to top Orioles prospect Yusniel Diaz and walking 13th-ranked Ryan McKenna before retiring No. 28 Brett Cumberland on a flyout to right field.
Video: Akron's McKenzie ends sixth with K
Bowie loaded the bases in the third as fourth-ranked Austin Hays singled, No. 22 Rylan Bannon walked and big league veteran Corban Joseph singled. But McKenzie got Aderlin Rodriguez to fly out to right and right fielder Ka'ai Tom threw out Hays at the plate to thwart the rally.
"He kind of started off slow and didn't have his normal command," RubberDucks pitching coach Rigo Beltran said. "But about the third inning, his curveball started landing and his changeup was really there."
Anderson Feliz doubled in the fourth, but from there McKenzie toughened, retiring the final eight batters he faced, including fanning Diaz to end the sixth inning and his night.
"We stuck with the gameplan and we attacked it a little more within the game," the 21-year-old said about the fourth. "I didn't have my best command.
"I wouldn't say any one thing was particularly working. I think my off-speed helped me out a lot, helped me keep hitters off balance. Lot of weak contact and let my infielders work behind me."
McKenzie needed 101 pitches -- his season high -- to navigate six innings, throwing 65 for strikes.
"It was a fun year for him, we've been working with him on his changeup and I think he threw 16 of them," Beltran said. "It's nice to see him become more of a three-pitch pitcher, instead of a two-pitch pitcher."
The 6-foot-5, 165-pounder finished five whiffs short of Minor League leader Alec Hansen, the White Sox No. 10 prospect, with 186 strikeouts last season for Class A Advanced Lynchburg, averaging 11.71 punchouts per nine innings.
Bowie broke through after McKenzie departed. Facing reliever David Speer (4-3), Feliz singled to left and McKenna legged out a bunt single. Cumberland sacrificed the runners to second and third and Erick Salcedo followed with a line-drive knock to center to plate Feliz. Hays followed with a two-RBI double to left that scored McKenna and Salcedo.
The Baysox added a run in the ninth on a single by Bannon that brought home McKenna.
Brian Gonzalez (8-6) matched McKenzie with scoreless ball through six frames, allowing only two hits and two walks with seven strikeouts. Zach Pop threw two shutout frames and Branden Kline closed it out with a scoreless ninth.
The native of Royal Palm Beach, Florida, was disappointed his year started late and definitely was eager to show what he could do during this campaign.
"I think that's for most guys who go on the DL, when they come back they want to prove themselves and that's definitely something I wanted to come back and do," he said. "In the beginning, I was a little rushed, trying to make up for lost time, but I found my groove and I think the guys here helped me feel real comfortable right off. The starters here, my coaches, my other teammates and I think it showed tonight."
With the Major Leagues in sight, McKenzie acknowledged he finds himself thinking about the ultimate goal.
"I think that's goes through most Minor Leaguers' minds," he said. "I'm kind of chomping at the bit. I think that just proves to myself that I've got to work harder."