Sometimes too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. Perhaps that was the case with Indians right-handed starting pitcher Triston McKenzie, who was placed on the 10-day Injured List by the ballclub on Wednesday. McKenzie’s assignment to the IL is due to shoulder fatigue and is retroactive to Sunday the 22nd, the day following his last start. This means McKenzie could miss as little as one scheduled start in the process of being on the IL as his second scheduled start would come after his required ten days away from the roster is complete. In effect, McKenzie’s roster spot has been lended to left-handed pitcher Logan Allen, who has been recalled to the Indians from AAA Columbus.
Ironically, McKenzie seemingly has worn out his right pitching shoulder at least in part due to improved performance. Simply put, he has pitched very well lately, which has meant he has thrown deeper into ballgames. More specifically, he has sported a 1.93 ERA in 4 starts over the course of 28 innings in August. Those 28 innings are the most McKenzie has thrown in the Majors over the course of any calendar month since his promotion to The Show in August 2020. Perhaps even more impressively, he reached that new personal high for innings pitched in a month without making his final start for August.
He was especially stellar in his 1-hit, 8 inning performance in Detroit on August 15th, and followed that outing with an additional 7 innings while allowing only 1 run and striking out future MVP Shohei Ohtani three times this past Sunday vs the Angels.
All of this is to say, McKenzie’s removal from the roster unfortunately comes at a time where he seemed to be turning a corner. After a rocky first half of the season that saw him make multiple trips back down to the minors due to poor performance and possibly a lack of confidence, McKenzie seemed to have found himself. There is some concern that this trip to the IL could halt that development as well as the good vibes surrounding the slender hurler.
But the opposite could easily be the case as well. Word coming directly from Indians President Chris Antonetti suggests that McKenzie’s time on the shelf is strictly precautionary. McKenzie’s history suggests that this could be a smart move. He is only 24 years old, and as previously stated, has yet to pitch a full season in the Majors. His Major League debut in August of 2020 came after shoulder concerns had kept him off the mound in professional play for nearly two calendar years. While McKenzie showed effectiveness in that return last season that was quickly followed by decreases in velocity and mechanical issues. Its clear that building up McKenzie’s stamina, particularly when keeping in mind his incredibly slight frame, is still a work in progress.
To that point, McKenzie had never pitched 7 innings in a Major League game before this August. He then did it three times in this month alone. He had never pitched 8 innings or more in any professional game at any level. He did that this month as well in his 1-hit performance against the Tigers. It only makes sense that now might be a time where that shoulder is getting a little weary. It makes even more sense then to hit the pause button and not risk both his health and a downturn in his development.
Smartly building McKenzie’s arm and body back up while also having him be a productive member of the 26-man roster has always been the goal, and a tricky one at that. This August has been a glimpse of what is possible for Dr. Sticks and while it may seem counter-intuitive, the thing that could be best for his continued success is halting that success in the immediate. That could be the difference not only in keeping him healthy but in avoiding bad habits mechanically that could be brought on by fatigue. There is a lot of baseball yet to be played in this young man’s career, and the best way for him and the Indians to make the most of it may be this temporary pause.