Detroit Tigers stumped by Cleveland’s Triston McKenzie in 4-0 loss to Guardians

Detroit Free Press

CLEVELAND — Cleveland Guardians right-hander Triston McKenzie entered Thursday’s series opener with a 1.17 ERA in five career starts against the Detroit Tigers.

By the end of the night, that number dropped to 0.93 over six starts. On Thursday, the 24-year-old dominated the Tigers for 12 strikeouts across eight scoreless innings, carving them up with his firm fastball and nasty curveball.

The Tigers lost, 4-0, in the first of four games at Progressive Field heading into the All-Star break.

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Facing McKenzie, the Tigers (37-53) recorded five hits — all singles — and failed to draw a walk. He filled up the strike zone with his fastball while inducing chases with his breaking balls, with 11 of his 12 strikeouts coming on swings.

His previous season best was eight strikeouts against the Tigers on May 29 at Comerica Park. His previous career high was 11 against the Tigers on Aug. 15, 2021, at Comerica Park.

McKenzie’s curveball racked up 10 swings and misses, to go with six whiffs from his fastball and two whiffs from his slider. He threw a career-high 109 pitches (78 strikes), using 58 fastballs, 27 sliders and 24 curveballs.

The Guardians tacked on their fourth run in the bottom of the eighth, as Andres Gimenez smacked a second-pitch hanging slider from left-handed reliever Tyler Alexander for a solo home run.

El-Rod not so hot

What McKenzie accomplished, Tigers right-hander Elvin Rodriguez did not in his first MLB start since being demoted to Triple-A Toledo on June 11. He often worked from behind in the count and, although he battled at the end, lengthy second and third innings spoiled his latest opportunity with the Tigers.

Rodriguez started his outing with a perfect first inning on nine pitches, but the Guardians wasted no time getting on the scoreboard for a 1-0 lead in the second inning.

Josh Naylor blasted a first-pitch fastball for a 401-foot solo home run to right-center. Rodriguez avoided further damage by stranding runners on the corners in the 24-pitch second inning.

In the third, he threw 26 pitches.

The Guardians added two more runs, opening with three consecutive hits. Steven Kwan won a nine-pitch battle and doubled to the right-field corner, and Amed Rosario tagged a first-pitch slider to put runners on first and third base.

Jose Ramirez put Cleveland ahead 2-0 with an RBI single on a 3-0 fastball.

After Rodriguez earned two outs, Gimenez increased the Guardians’ lead to 3-0 with an RBI double. Manager A.J. Hinch intentionally walked Nolan Jones — a left-handed hitter playing in his eighth MLB game — to load the bases for Austin Hedges, who lined out to shortstop Harold Castro to end the inning.

Rodriguez responded to the damage with three straight scoreless innings. He threw 14 pitches in the fourth, eight pitches in the fifth and 13 pitches for two outs in the sixth.

A four-pitch walk to Myles Straw ended Rodriguez’s outing with two outs in the sixth inning. Right-handed reliever Jason Foley entered for a matchup with Steven Kwan and finished the inning on five pitches.

Rodriguez allowed three runs on seven hits and four walks with four strikeouts across 5⅔ innings. It marked his longest outing at any level this season. For his 94 pitches (55 strikes), he used 54 four-seam fastballs, 20 sliders, 10 curveballs and 10 changeups.

Those pitches resulted in six swings and misses.

Thrown a curce

The Tigers advanced a runner into scoring position for the first time in the sixth, thanks to Miguel Cabrera’s two-out single. He pushed Victor Reyes to third base, but Eric Haase struck out swinging on a curveball to strand the runners.

The below-the-zone curveball was McKenzie’s best pitch.

Rookie Riley Greene struck out swinging four times against McKenzie’s revered pitch, in the first, third, sixth and eighth innings. Twice, the curveball got Haase to chase for the third strike, in the second and sixth innings.

In the seventh, Jeimer Candelario saw three pitches in his at-bat. He fouled a first-pitch fastball at the top of the strike zone and swung through a curveball below the strike zone.

McKenzie, ahead 0-2, went back to the curveball. This time, he dotted the pitch on the bottom edge of the strike zone, freezing Candelario for his only called third strike.

Entering Thursday, McKenzie’s opponents had a 43.7% swing-and-miss rate, .106 batting average and three extra-base hits off his curveball. On Thursday, the Tigers whiffed at 59% of his curveballs.

Greene struck out four times in one game for the second time in his past seven games.

In the ninth, Guardians closer Emmanuel Clase slammed the door with three consecutive outs.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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