MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — 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 beat Minnesota 3-1 on Tuesday, when a comebacker off the wrist of Twins rookie Joe Ryan shortened the pitching duel. Ryan Jeffers had four RBIs in the nightcap as the Twins gained a split with a 6-3 victory.
“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.”
McKenzie (5-6) had seven strikeouts, including Byron Buxton three times, with just three hits, one run and one walk allowed. He recorded his fifth straight outing of six innings or more and one run or less and 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.
After starter Charlie Barnes gave up back-to-back RBI doubles to Amed Rosario and José Ramírez in a three-run third, the Twins used a four-run fourth inning against Indians starter Logan Allen (1-7) to rally in the second game.
Jeffers hit a two-run double, Willians Astudillo added an RBI double and Nick Gordon gave them the lead with an RBI single. Jeffers then added a two-run shot in the sixth for his 13th homer this season, and Kyle Barraclough (1-0) pitched a perfect fifth for his first victory with the Twins. Alex Colomé picked up his 14th save in 20 attempts with a scoreless seventh.
Jeffers has been thriving lately as the everyday catcher with Mitch Garver sidelined.
“I know I can be one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. I know I can be one of the best defensive catchers in baseball," Jeffers said. “Just continuing to work and continuing to grow and get better every day really is possible by staying in the lineup. Who knows what the next couple years entail, but I want to be that guy catching 120 games, 130 games.”
The Indians have just 18 hits and 10 runs over their last five games, including the third no-hitter thrown against them this season. That was on Saturday by NL Central-leading Milwaukee.
There were a few signs of batting life in the first game. Bradley Zimmer tied it in the fifth off Ryan with a home run off the shutters fronting the parking ramp behind the second deck in right field.
Austin Hedges hit a go-ahead RBI double in a two-run seventh against Danny Coulombe (3-2), before Emmanuel Clase closed it out with a perfect seventh for his 23rd save in 27 chances.
“Hopefully it kind of can continue on throughout the remainder of this season, but I saw some good things tonight with some guys having some good at-bats and staying on the ball,” Hale said.
RYAN ON THE RISE
Ryan beat McKenzie in Cleveland last week, taking a perfect game into the seventh inning of a 3-0 victory by Minnesota.
This time, Ryan 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 major league start. He 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.
Ryan had a bruise, and X-rays on the wrist revealed no break, after he gave up three hits and one walk with four strikeouts. He threw 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.
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 look.
“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.
THE BIEB IS ALMOST BACK
Speaking of starting pitching, Indians RHP Shane Bieber — the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner — began a rehab assignment on Tuesday night for Triple-A Columbus. Bieber, who has been out for more than three months by a strained throwing shoulder, threw 47 pitches and logged 2 2/3 innings with one run allowed.
Indians: C Roberto Pérez (right shoulder inflammation) was reinstated from his second stint on the injured list this season. Pérez, who missed the last six weeks, took the second game behind the plate and went 0 for 3.
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.
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.
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