The Ballad of Triston McKenzie

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He was taking swings with little leaguers hours before the Little League Classic game in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and less than a day after another solid August performance where he racked up a career-high 11 punchouts. This may be the week of Triston McKenzie, who had two spectacular outings bookending this week that was. Last Sunday, he tossed 106 pitches in a season-high eight inning start versus the Tigers, and also took a perfect game into the eighth inning. The 24-year-old issued no walks; his only hit relinquished was a two-out eighth inning single to Harold Castro.

He continued the excellence on Saturday evening, where he held the Los Angeles Angels to one solitary run off two hits, over seven innings; he issued only one walk, and struck out eight. Amongst McKenzie’s eight strikeouts was AL MVP favorite Shohei Ohtani, who was rung up three times; Ohtani went down in the first, third, and sixth innings, all swinging strikeouts off McKenzie’s dazzling curveball. McKenzie received a well-deserved ovation after his departure from the game.

In 28 innings pitched over four starts in August, McKenzie boasts a 1.93 ERA, 0.50 WHIP and a 28/2 K/BB ratio. Opponents are batting .123 against him, with a .154 BABIP; even when balls go in play, they’re rarely hits as he’s only given up 12 this month. The right-hander finished his performance on Saturday with 15 swings and misses total - contributing to a 34% CSW (called strikes plus whiffs) on his arsenal overall.

Besides successfully establishing an elevated fastball, his secondary pitches are especially shining lately. On Saturday, the curveball lured six whiffs - including Ohtani’s punchouts - contributing to a 56% CSW, noting it as an especially fantastic putaway pitch. The slider also was sparkling, garnering nine whiffs, and a 34% CSW on that pitch. The Angels were thrown 37 breaking balls in all, and they were only able to put three in play.

Angels manager Joe Maddon had some amiable things to say about the young right-hander, saying that McKenzie will be “something to be reckoned with in the future,” but given what we’ve seen from him lately, that time may be sooner than later.

Notable Performances

Freddie Freeman hit for the cycle on Wednesday, for the second time he’s ever hit for the cycle in his career. In doing so, he became the first Braves hitter to hit for multiple cycles. To accomplish the feat, he doubled off of Jesus Luzardo in the first inning, then got the rarest part of the cycle out of the way, by hitting a leadoff triple in the fourth. A single off Sean Guenther started the fifth inning, and the final piece to the puzzle was a 405-foot homer off Luis Madero in the sixth inning. The hot-hitting first baseman now carries a .300/.397/.516 line, with 27 homers and 70 RBI on the season. He also leads the National League in runs scored, with 91.

The Braves had won six straight games going into Friday, and Max Fried helped push that number to seven as he pitched a complete game shutout versus Baltimore. The southpaw did so in just 90 pitches - the rare Maddux, a complete game shutout in under 100 pitches thrown. Fried was able to induce 12 groundouts, and three batters faced resulted in one-pitch outs. The 27-year-old now has a 3.49 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 117 strikeouts across 118 2/3 innings. As of Sunday evening, the Braves’ winning streak is now at nine games, after a 3-1 victory and three game sweep of the Orioles.

Christian Yelich showed shades of his 2018 form; the former National League MVP had a multi-homer game on Saturday, including a grand slam. He drove in six of the Brewers’ nine runs, and even stole a base. Yelich has been battling numerous back issues this year and last, and had trouble returning to form after his season-ending injury in late 2019, where he fouled a ball off his kneecap. Before Saturday, the 29-year-old outfielder had not homered in two months.

With his last homer on Friday versus the Orioles, Jorge Soler now has 11 home runs after the All-Star break, and had seven before. Since joining the Braves at the trade deadline, he carries a .829 OPS in 19 games played, including 11 runs scored, three doubles, four home runs, and nine RBI. The Braves, who have a commanding 5 1/2 game lead over the Phillies in the NL East, are 16-3 in the 19 games Soler has been with the team.

Kolten Wong caught the Nationals sleeping, as he tagged from third base on a pop-up to first in a wild play on Saturday night, scoring a run in the Brewers’ 9-6 win. Wong followed up with that performance with a lead-off home run in Sunday’s game. In 33 plate appearances over his last seven games played, he has a .877 OPS, including two doubles, two home runs, one stolen base, and eight RBI.

Jake Cronenworth launched the game-tying two-run shot off Aaron Nola’s 117th pitch on Saturday for his 19th of the year on Saturday night. The bottom-of-the-ninth, two out home run was certainly with the dramatics; the home run flew 410 feet at 104.7 miles per hour. Cronenworth also hit an inside-the-park home run on Tuesday versus the Rockies, for his second of the year. His last seven games played is rather eye-opening: he has a 1.099 OPS over 29 plate appearances, including six runs scored, two doubles, three home runs, and six RBI.

A career milestone was reached on Sunday afternoon: Miguel Cabrera hit his 500th home run on Sunday afternoon. Cabrera launched the solo homer on a 0-2 count, off Blue Jays pitcher Steven Matz. The 41-year-old veteran was greeted by a standing ovation from the fans in Toronto, as well as his Tigers teammates after accomplishing the feat. 362 of Cabrera’s 500 homers were in a Detroit Tigers uniform. Cabrera is now the 28th pitcher in Major League Baseball history to hit 500 career home runs.

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Injury Report

Yasmani Grandal is inching closer to a return with the White Sox, as this week, his rehab assignment was moved from Double-A to Triple-A. He’s currently 5-for-9 with a home run and a double in three games for the Charlotte Knights. The catcher has been sidelined since early July with a torn left knee tendon; there’s still no definite time set for his return to the big league club.

Jake Arrieta was placed on the 10-day injured list on Friday with a left hamstring strain. He will miss at least one turn in the rotation. The Padres have a handful of off-days in the near future, so this shouldn’t disrupt the natural order of things too much. Also in Padres land, Yu Darvish is making his way towards a return. He threw a bullpen session on Friday and another on Sunday, the first two sessions since an early departure from his start on Aug. 12 with lower back tightness. Darvish could return to the rotation as early as this upcoming week, in time for yet another important series with the Dodgers

In a precautionary move, Freddy Peralta was placed on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation. Peralta exited his Wednesday start in St. Louis after 43 pitches thrown over two innings. The Brewers chose to be cautious with the All-Star right-hander, and will put him on the shelf for at least the next 10 days.

After a frightening scene on Tuesday evening where Chris Bassitt was struck by a line drive to the face during a start in Chicago, he is set to undergo surgery this week to secure displaced bones from his face. The A’s have not announced a timetable for the right-hander’s return, but a clearer picture should be available once surgery is complete.

George Springer exited last Saturday’s game versus the Mariners with what at the time, was thought to be a left ankle sprain. An MRI actually revealed a left knee sprain. Springer was diagnosed with a grade 1 knee sprain, and subsequently placed on the 10-day injured list prior to Tuesday’s game, retroactive to Sunday. Randal Grichuk will get most of the playing time in center in Springer’s stead.

Honor Roll

Aaron Nola (8.2 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 11 K on Saturday), Anthony Santander (2-for-4, 2 R, 2 HR (11, 12), 2 RBI on Saturday), Walker Buehler (7 2/3 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 8 K on Friday), Luke Voit (4-for-5, HR, 2B, 2 R, 4 RBI on Friday), Ty France (3-for-6, 2 R, 3 RBI on Thursday), Luis Castillo (7 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 7 K on Thursday), Andrew Heaney (7 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 2 BB, 4 K on Wednesday), Marcus Semien (2-for-5, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R on Wednesday), Logan Webb (7 1/3 IP, 8 H, 0 R, 8 K on Tuesday), Nelson Cruz (2-for-5, 2 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI on Tuesday), Wade Miley (7 IP, 0 ER, 4 H, 1 BB, 7 K on Monday), Kris Bryant (2-for-4, 2 HR, 3 RBI on Monday)

A cycle, a Maddux, and a resurging former MVP’s multi-homer effort -- that’s just some of the great stories from Major League Baseball this week. Join us next week for more news from across the league.