MINNEAPOLIS — Triston McKenzie was sent to Triple-A four times this season, as the lanky 24-year-old worked through some early struggles.
Now Cleveland has another budding star pitcher, turning in one stellar start after another.
McKenzie cruised through six innings of the first game of a doubleheader to lead the Indians past Minnesota 3-1 on Tuesday, after a comebacker off the wrist of Twins rookie Joe Ryan sidelined one half of the pitching duel.
“That was pretty much the sole purpose of me going down there, to figure out my control and figure out how to attack the strike zone,” McKenzie said. “The past month a half, past two months, has just been a culmination of all the work that was put in.”
McKenzie (5-6) had seven strikeouts, including Byron Buxton three times, with just three hits and one walk allowed to record his fifth straight outing of six innings or more and one run or less. The right-hander has retired 96 of the last 112 batters he's faced.
“When he needs to throw a strike, he’s been able to put multiple pitches that he has in the strike zone,” acting Indians manager DeMarlo Hale said.
McKenzie trailed after an RBI double by Andrelton Simmons in the third, but Bradley Zimmer tied the game in the fifth with a home run off the shutters fronting the parking ramp behind the second deck in right field.
Ryan got right back to work after that, but he was forced out in the sixth when leadoff man Myles Straw smashed a single off the throwing arm of the 25-year-old right-hander, making his third big league start. Ryan knew right away he was hurt, stalking off the mound and going straight to the dugout where he slammed his glove in frustration. He apologized in an interview afterward for the “out of character” outburst.
Manager Rocco Baldelli said Ryan had a bruise and that X-rays on the wrist revealed no break. Ryan gave up three hits and one walk with four strikeouts, throwing 50 of 67 pitches for strikes.
“It hasn’t swelled up too much. There’s a nice seam mark on the wrist, so that’ll be kind of cool to look at for a couple of days, and then it’ll go away and I’ll be back to pitching,” Ryan said.
Twins right-hander Joe Ryan in good spirits after leaving game with injury
Austin Hedges hit a go-ahead RBI double in the seventh against Danny Coulombe (3-2), and a fielding error on third baseman Luis Arraez off a sharp ground ball by pinch-hitter Yu Chang yielded an insurance run for closer Emmanuel Clase, who recorded his 23rd save in 27 chances with a perfect seventh.
There’s no more meaningful aspect of September games for out-of-contention teams like these than taking a closer look at young starting pitchers like McKenzie and Ryan. Ryan beat McKenzie in Cleveland last week, taking a perfect game into the seventh inning of a 3-0 victory by Minnesota.
Acquired from league-leading Tampa Bay on July 22 for star slugger Nelson Cruz, Ryan has deftly slid into the rotation after helping the U.S. win a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics and then making two starts for Triple-A St. Paul.
Ryan has the stuff and swagger to quickly become a fan favorite, with his long, thick, curly brown hair flowing out from under his cap and throwback mustache enhancing his commanding presence on the mound.
“Joe’s mound presence, I think, is exceptional for a young player. The way he continues to adjust and read hitters and prepare for his outings is very impressive,” Baldelli said.
Twins' Baldelli gives update on right-hander Joe Ryan's wrist
THE BIEB IS ALMOST BACK
Speaking of starting pitching, Indians RHP Shane Bieber — the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner — was set to begin a rehab assignment with a 50-pitch-or-so start on Tuesday night for Triple-A Columbus. Bieber has been out for more than three months by a strained throwing shoulder.
“We expect for him to kind of ramp up his volume and also his intensity,” Hale said. “He’s pitching against another team. That’s a good sign.”
Indians: C Roberto Pérez (right shoulder inflammation) was reinstated from his second stint on the injured list this season and slated to take the second game behind the plate. Pérez missed the last six weeks. C Ryan Lavarnway was designated for assignment to make room.
Twins: RHP John Gant was placed on the injured list with a left abdominal strain that forced him out of his start against the Yankees in the first inning on Monday. LHP Andrew Albers was recalled from Triple-A for the third time in less than four weeks.
LHP Logan Allen (1-6, 6.86 ERA) starts for the Indians in the second game, opposite LHP Charlie Barnes (0-3, 6.59 ERA) for the Twins.
RHP Cal Quantrill (5-3, 3.04 ERA) pitches for Cleveland to wrap up the series on Wednesday night, when RHP Griffin Jax (3-3, 6.72 ERA) takes the mound for Minnesota.