Guardians’ Triston McKenzie on the art of execution and overcoming expensive ground

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Once Triston McKenzie’s right foot was planted in the dirt, he rotated his body to face the green monster and watched the baseball sail through Boston night.

McKenzie knew immediately — before fans rushed to jump at the memory from their left-field perch, before those operating the cameras at Fenway Park could locate the ball along its orbit, before the batter does hack his misplaced slider. McKenzie bent his knees like he was about to pray to the baseball gods for an overhaul.

Xander Bogaerts erased Cleveland’s 1-0 lead with a quick swing on an 0-2 offer from a guy who had allowed a grand total of one run in 32 innings in July prior to that run (July 28).

And here we are nitpicking about the one mistake McKenzie has made all month. OK, that’s not the point here; McKenzie’s reaction demonstrated that he knew Bogaerts had thrown a game-changing home run.

But when, exactly, did McKenzie know this particular pitch had gone bad? And how does a pitcher quickly regroup after such a dramatic moment?

We went straight to the source the next day to get a glimpse into a pitcher’s thought process.

First, here’s the at-bat sequence.

Pitch 1: 92.5 mph fastball in the middle, on which Bogaerts fouled.

Step 2: 85.3 mph slider up and in, which induced a nasty half-swing-and-a-miss.

Slot 3: 85.6 mph in the middle, which resulted in the home run.

Did you know the second you released the ball or the second it made contact? You had an instant reaction.

Out of hand, I know it’s bad ground. It’s not where I wanted it. I gave the shot to (Alex) Verdugo, the first, which was a well-placed radiator. I threw it and it got hit and I was like, “Ah, okay.” But the second shot at Verdugo, the line in the middle, out of my hand, as soon as I got here (near his exit point), I was like, ‘It’s not out.’ And as soon as I get here, I’m able to look – I see the ball going through the plate, so I’m able to judge where it is and I know it’s just not my place. The one to Xander, immediately out of my hand, I’m like, “That’s a bad pitch.” When he hit it, I’m like, immediately, “Bad pitch,” and then it’s like, “Ah, he’s probably just had enough.”

And then you can go back and see it on video to confirm your suspicions and identify why you didn’t perform it the way you wanted?

Mmh. You’ll see me, after pitches or if I give up a shot, I’ll walk around the mound and say, “Mmmm” (a frustrated sigh) and I’ll do stuff like that and it’s more just like, “Ehhh, it was high but it should have been a little higher” or “Ehhh, it’s in the middle. It can’t be average. You’ll see me say stuff like that.

How to group and empty this? You throw another throw 30 seconds later.

It’s baseball. I have to throw another pitch anyway. I think it’s more in the sense, for me, if I’m able to understand what I’ve done and recognize it immediately or pick it up, I’m able to accept the information and say “We “I’ll move on, we’ll do these pitches,” but be like, “Okay, I made a mistake here. What have I done here? Let’s go on and on. But when I come back and look in the dugout and grab the iPad, I know this is going to be the first pitch I look at.


Triston McKenzie reacts after a deep flight at Fenway Park. (David Butler II / USA Today)

Where did you want this pitch in Bogaerts?

Four inches (far), not in its barrel. (Laughs)

I think one of my strengths when pitching is my self-awareness, especially being able to understand where I’ve made mistakes, but not necessarily affecting me. With baseball, when you start to let things get worse is when things start to move. In the beginning, especially in 2020 and early last year, it wasn’t necessarily that I couldn’t do it. It was fairer that I was in the big leagues and putting unnecessary pressure on myself and physically making things worse instead of just taking the information for what it was and letting it go, because that’s baseball. I was like, ‘I have to make this perfect pitch’ and I wouldn’t make a perfect pitch and I was like, ‘Well, now it’s 1-0, so now I have to reach my place. And then I would come in at 2-0 and it was like, ‘Well, it’s 2-0, he’s sitting, bright red. I have to make a perfect throw or he has to be right on the edge. And I’d fall behind, and that’s where I’d have trouble.

The psychology behind it all is fascinating.

If I were to come back (to the Boston game), I don’t think I would change – hey, I would probably change the pitch call because my slider wasn’t necessarily very good. But I don’t think it’s a bad pitch. I think it was fairer that he was not executed. I think if that pitch was 3 inches out he can still put the same swing on it, but he can’t catch it on the barrel and hit a fly ball to center field or he can hook it to (the left fielder Steven) Kwan.

We don’t see pitches that might not be executed perfectly that the batter doesn’t To take advantage of.

You only see the results. It’s baseball. At the end of the day, you can look at the box score and think, “Oh, he threw like trash!” He allowed four (points). But if you watched the game, it’s a bit different.

(Top photo: David Richard/USA Today)

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