The maturation of Triston McKenzie as a starting pitcher is beginning to put him in the record books.
McKenzie continued to build on his stellar 2022 season in the Guardians' 8-2 win over the Chicago White Sox Tuesday night, controlling the South Siders for eight innings with 13 strikeouts, zero walks and two earned runs allowed. The win delivered another decisive blow for the Guardians in the American League Central Division race.
It was McKenzie's fourth career outing with at least 10 strikeouts and zero walks and the third such performance this season. According to MLB.com's Sarah Langs, it puts McKenzie into a tie with Shane Bieber for second on Cleveland's franchise list for the most games with 10-plus strikeouts and no walks with four apiece. Corey Kluber is the franchise leader with 10.
McKenzie, with three of those outings coming during the season, is now tied with Kluber in 2017 for the most among Cleveland pitchers in a single year in the club's history. McKenzie is also tied with Corbin Burnes, Jacob deGrom and Clayton Kershaw for the most games with at least 10 strikeouts and zero walks this season.
"I thought it was special," Francona told reporters in Chicago. "Boy, he had no walks, 13 strikeouts, he was spinning it. They had to respect his fastball because it had life through the zone, and he was spinning it so good, that was just very impressive."
The win all but secured the American League Central title for the Guardians barring a complete collapse over the final week and a half remaining in the regular season. The win gave the Guardians a six-game over the second-place White Sox, and Cleveland also holds the tiebreaker so it's effectively a seven-game lead. The White Sox would have to overtake them since there are no more "Game 163" scenarios as MLB moved to a tiebreaker system more aligned with how the NFL operates.
The Guardians' magic number to clinch is seven, meaning any combination of seven Guardians wins or White Sox losses. For perspective, if the White Sox were to win out and finish 89-73, the Guardians would need to go 7-6 to win the division.
One of the core players in the Guardians' advancement into first place in the division has been McKenzie, who lowered his ERA to 3.04. And since the beginning of July, few starters have been better. In a span of 14 starts entering Wednesday night, McKenzie has posted a 2.25 ERA with 94 strikeouts in 92 innings. And he was in complete control in Chicago.
Outfielder Steven Kwan — who has 14 hits in the past five games and has put together a stellar season of his own as a rookie — told reporters in Chicago that facing McKenzie would be "scary."
"I think we talk about that all the time, just having that competitive edge," Kwan said. "Dude is scary though, because that slider he has that's kind of the same speed as his fastball but profiles as his slider, it's crazy, and he's made a lot of people look silly with that curveball. It'd be interesting."
Will Brennan called up, Gabriel Arias recalled, Ernie Clement designated for assignment
Guardians outfield prospect Will Brennan became the 16th Cleveland player to make his debut during the 2022 season. And he made the most of it Wednesday night.
Brennan had his contract selected from Triple-A and was promoted to the majors ahead of Wednesday's game. The Guardians also recalled infielder Gabriel Arias. To make room on the roster, Richie Palacios was optioned to Triple-A Columbus and utility man Ernie Clement was designated for assignment.
Brennan, ranked as the No. 20 prospect in Cleveland's system, collected two hits and an RBI from the No. 7 spot in the lineup and made a highlight-reel catch in right field.
"It is special and I had to kind of remind myself for a minute because he got that first hit and I heard some people going crazy and I look, and I never look, and it had to be his mom and dad, and I remember thinking, 'OK, take a minute here, that's pretty cool,'" Francona said. "That was a heck of a play [in right field]. You know what, good for him, he didn't seem overwhelmed or anything but I'm sure his heart was racing."
In Double-A and Triple-A this season, Brennan hit .314 with a .371 on-base percentage, 13 home runs, 40 doubles and 107 RBIs.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read more about the Guardians at www.beaconjournal.com/sports/cleveland-guardians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Triston McKenzie's performance puts him in company with Bieber, Kluber