It had been 723 days since Triston McKenzie pitched in a game that counted, but he made it worth the wait.
Making his Major League debut, the ninth-ranked Indians prospect allowed a run on two hits and a walk and struck out 10 over six innings to lead Cleveland to a 6-1 victory over the Tigers on Saturday at Progressive Field.
“It helped keep me grounded that a lot of the people that I wanted to watch this game and I wanted to pitch for definitely helped relax me and bring me back to center,” McKenzie said, “which was mainly my family, my girlfriend, even the guys in the clubhouse. [Shane] Bieber, [Aaron] Civale, they talked to me beforehand and gave me a rundown about [how] everybody’s been through it. ‘Just go out there and be you.’”
It had been a long journey back to the mound for McKenzie, who battled multiple injuries the past two seasons. After a dominant 2017 with Class A Advanced Lynchburg, where he whiffed 186 over 143 innings, a forearm problem limited the right-hander to 16 starts for Double-A Akron in 2018.
Heading into Spring Training in 2019, McKenzie was shut down with an upper back strain, then missed the rest of the year with a pectoral strain. Looking to return to action in the Cactus League this spring, weather and the COVID-19 shutdown kept him off the mound.
But in his first start since Aug. 30, 2018, McKenzie flourished, throwing 56 of 80 pitches for strikes. The 2015 first-round pick showed no rust in the first inning, throwing 12 of 13 pitches for strikes and capping it with a three-pitch punchout of two-time American League MVP Miguel Cabrera.
“Miggy was a huge part of that Marlins team," said McKenzie, a Florida native. "Growing up, I was [5 years old] when Miggy was starting to come up, so for me to face him when I’m now getting into the league was huge for me.”
McKenzie kept the Tigers out of the hit column until No. 7 prospect Willi Castro stepped in with one out in the fourth inning. His former Minor League teammate crushed a changeup to right field for a solo homer, his second in as many nights. From there, however, the 23-year-old set down nine of the next 10 batters, six via strikeouts.
“Sore subject,” McKenzie said of the homer. “Me and Willi are actually close. ... I talked to him a little bit before today’s game. The fact that he was the one who hit the home run off me was, I guess, very ironic, but I got him back there in the end. We’re gonna go back and forth about that, definitely."
McKenzie became the 28th pitcher in Major League history to record at least 10 strikeouts in his debut and the first since Freddy Peralta debuted with 13 punchouts for the Brewers on May 13, 2018.
An All-Star Futures Game and MiLB.com Organization All-Star selection in 2017, McKenzie compiled a 2.68 ERA with 394 strikeouts over 329 innings in the Minor Leagues.
No. 15 Indians prospect James Karinchak fanned two in a perfect eighth, lowering his ERA to 0.61.
In other action:
White Sox 7, Cubs 4Top White Sox prospect Luis Robert was at it again, belting his seventh long ball of the season. He got the South Siders on the board in the second inning with a two-run laser over the left-center field wall off Kyle Hendricks. MLB Pipeline's No. 3 overall prospect has four homers hit at 110 mph or better, tied for second in the Majors. No. 19 White Sox prospect Danny Mendick ripped a single in four plate appearances. Top Cubs prospect Nico Hoerner walked as a pinch-hitter and scored a run. Box score
Mariners 10, Rangers 1It was a big night for fifth-ranked M's prospect Evan White, who homered, doubled and drove in a career-high six runs in a romp over Texas. He got started in the first inning when he ripped a double to left field off Jordan Lyles that plated two runs. Two innings later, he sent another shot to left that cleared the wall for a three-run dinger. In the eighth, he brought home Kyle Lewis with a fielder’s choice. White became the first Mariners player age 24 or younger to collect two extra-base hits and at least five RBIs in a game since Brad Miller on Sept. 28, 2013. Box score
Rays 2, Blue Jays 1 (10 innings)
In his fourth outing of the season, Rays rookie right-hander Aaron Slegers cruised through four hitless innings. The 27-year-old opened the game and struck out five. The only Blue Jay who reached base against him was Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who got aboard on an error by second baseman Brandon Lowe to begin the third frame. Slegers owns a 5.63 ERA in eight innings this year. Five relievers tossed scoreless frames for Tampa Bay, including rookies Ryan Thompson , Peter Fairbanks, John Curtiss and Anthony Banda, who notched the win in his second appearance of the year. No. 26 Blue Jays prospect Julian Merryweather worked two hitless frames out of the bullpen. Box score
Twins 7, Royals 2
The long ball got to No. 3 Royals prospect Brady Singer in the shortest of his six big league starts. The right-hander went four innings and allowed four earned runs on six hits. He struck out three and walked none, but Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano took the No. 63 overall prospect deep. Singer’s ERA sits at 5.16 through 29 2/3 innings. LaMonte Wade Jr made his first start of the year for Minnesota and went 2-for-4 with a double. Box score
Angels 4, Athletics 3
Jo Adell recorded his first big league extra-base hit. The top Angels prospect laced a double to left field leading off the second inning and came around to score when David Fletcher reached on an error. He singled in his next at-bat for the third multi-hit performance of his young career. He finished the day 2-for-4, raising his average to .217. Box score
Pirates 12, Brewers 5
Brewers No. 5 prospect Drew Rasmussen closed out the game, entering with two outs in the seventh and throwing the final eighth frame. The right-hander gave up two runs on three hits and a walk and has a 5.40 ERA after making his big league debut on Wednesday. Box score
Padres 13, Astros 2
A prospect has joined the Padres’ grand slam party. After San Diego hit salamis in all four games of its series against the Rangers earlier this week, 19th-ranked Jake Cronenworth cranked a bases-loaded blast to make it five slams in six games. The 26-year-old went 3-for-4 with four RBIs and three runs scored and has a .328/.400/.676 slash line with three homers in 71 at-bats. Astros No. 25 prospect Taylor Jones hit his first big league homer in the fifth inning, while 13th-ranked Brandon Bielak recorded four outs and surrendered seven runs on five hits, four of which left the yard. Box score
Giants 5, D-backs 1
It was a good night at the dish for San Francisco’s young catchers. Rookie Chadwick Tromp started and doubled in one of his two at-bats before top Giants prospect Joey Bart batted for him in the seventh. MLB Pipeline's No. 15 overall prospect belted a double off the center field wall and scored a run, giving him three two-baggers in as many big league games. D-backs rookie Taylor Widener struck out one and surrendered one hit over 1 2/3 innings of relief. Box score
Nationals 5, Marlins 4 (1st game)
No. 23 overall prospect Carter Kieboom went 0-for-2 with a walk while getting the start at third base. Marlins No. 5 prospect Jesus Sanchez also was 0-for-2 but drove in a run with a bases-loaded walk in the fifth inning. Box score
Marlins 5, Nationals 3 (2nd game)
Making his big league debut, Sixto Sanchez picked up the win. The top Marlins prospect allowed three runs on six hits with four strikeouts over five innings. Two long balls accounting for the three runs, but he kept the Marlins in front. Jesus Sanchez went 0-for-1 with a pair of walks for Miami, while top Nats prospect Carter Kieboom drew a free pass as a pinch-hitter. Box score
Cardinals 3, Reds 0
No. 24 Reds prospect Tejay Antone tossed 2 1/3 scoreless frames out of the bullpen to bring his ERA down to 1.72. He walked one and struck out three. Top Cardinals prospect Dylan Carlson went 0-for-3 out of the eighth spot in the lineup. Box score
Andrew Battifarano is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter, @AndrewAtBatt.