Game #37 Observations: Tyler Naquin Does it All in Indians’ 5-0 Win Over Royals

Casey Drottar

Had Tyler Naquin not played in the Cleveland Indians’ series finale against the Kansas City Royals Wednesday night, the game might still be going.

However, Naquin continued to tighten his grip on the everyday right fielder role, knocking in all five runs in the Tribe’s 5-0 victory.

Naquin opened and closed the game with a pair of home runs, with a two-run shot in the second and a three-run dinger in the ninth. It was all the offense Cleveland needed, thanks to a solid night on the mound from rookie pitcher Triston McKenzie.

Sure, Naquin wasn’t the only Indians player earning accolades Wednesday night.

Francisco Lindor went 3-for-4 with a double, notching his second straight multi-hit game. Two batters later in the lineup, Franmil Reyes continued his absolutely torrid pace at the plate with three singles of his own. Overall, he collected ten hits across the three game set against Kansas City.

It was an undoubtedly strong finish to a series Cleveland kicked off unimpressively. Here are a few more observations from the win.

Another Quality Start for Sticks

With Mike Clevinger now out of the picture, the stage is set for McKenzie to officially secure his spot in the rotation. After his third big league start, he certainly looks up to the task.

The man they call “Sticks” put forth another quality performance Wednesday night, going 6.0 innings while allowing only three hits and striking out six. Even though seven of the 13 batted balls he allowed qualified as hard contact, McKenzie spent the bulk of the night avoiding any trouble.

The rookie’s breaking pitches were definitely working for him against Kansas City, as he was able to generate high whiff rates with both his slider and curve. He induced eleven swings with the former, getting six whiffs (55%). Meanwhile, Kansas City hitters offered at six of McKenzie’s curves, whiffing on three and failing to put any in play.

Worth noting, though, was a slight dip in McKenzie’s fastball velocity.

During his August 22 debut against the Detroit Tigers, he was averaging 94.5 mph with his four-seamer, topping out at 96.5 mph. Wednesday, McKenzie’s fastball averaged a velocity of 92.7 mph, with a max of 94.6.

The max velocity with this pitch has decreased across each of his three starts, and it’s definitely a trend worth keeping an eye on.

That said, it’s tough to voice too many complaints about a rookie who’s now allowed a total of three earned runs across the first three starts of his MLB career.

Defense on Display

As mentioned, McKenzie was able to avoid any trouble despite allowing a good amount of hard contact. This was mainly due to the fact Cleveland’s defense came to play in this one.

Royals third baseman Maikel Franco looked to have a sure double in the bottom of the second, which was erased thanks to a leaping grab at the wall from Delino DeShields Jr. It was one of two warning track snags Cleveland’s center fielder pulled off on the night.

The Indians generated three double plays, frequently protecting the team’s narrow lead until Naquin padded it in the ninth.

Strong individual effort was put on display, as well.

In the sixth, a slow roller towards the mound got under McKenzie’s glove. What should’ve been an infield single was wiped out when Lindor sprinted in from shortstop to barehand the grounder and beat the runner with his throw to first.

In the previous inning, with men in scoring position, Carlos Santana made a heads up play when fielding a groundout, looking Ryan McBroom back to third before tagging first. Noticing McBroom had stepped too far from the bag, Santana threw a seed to third base to pick him off and end the threat.

While McKenzie deserves credit for yet another solid start, he was likely at ease on the mound considering how strong the defense was behind him.

Concerns Return at Catcher

Not everything worked in Cleveland’s favor during its final night in Kansas City.

Just 15 days after returning from the IL, catcher Roberto Pérez made an early exit Wednesday night. The team announced his departure was a result of “shoulder fatigue.”

While the initial diagnosis doesn’t sound extremely concerning, this is the second time shoulder trouble has sidelined Pérez this year. It’s safe to say this is something Cleveland will be monitoring very closely through the rest of the season.

Replacing him Wednesday was Sandy León, who finished the night with strikeouts in all three of his at-bats.

Admittedly, Pérez had yet to get going offensively this year. However, his absence once again creates a major question mark at catcher.

Neither León nor Beau Taylor have provided much at the plate this season. Meanwhile, deadline pickup Austin Hedges’ career 61 wRC+ implies he won’t be an offensive spark, either.

Should Pérez miss any more time with his shoulder ailment this year, the Indians are going to have yet another hole at the bottom of the lineup to figure out.

For now, their third straight series win has earned them a much-needed day off. The team returns home Thursday to get ready for a weekend set against the Milwaukee Brewers.

To keep up with all of Cleveland Baseball Insiders’ coverage, click the "follow" button at the top right-hand corner of this page.