CLEVELAND – Once Triston McKenzie fired fastballs during his pregame warmup that seemed to disappear as they neared the plate, he knew it would be a good night.
Not for the Tigers.
McKenzie struck out a career-high 12 and blanked Detroit over eight innings to extend his scoreless streak to 21, leading the Cleveland Guardians to a 4-0 win on Thursday night in the opener of a four-game series.
McKenzie (7-6) was dominant, giving up five singles, walking none and working out of his only trouble in the sixth. A year ago, the 24-year-old carried a perfect game into the eighth at Detroit.
“He just had that special fastball,” Guardians catcher Austin Hedges said. “(Tigers second baseman Jonathan) Schoop was at second base telling me he just had that invisible fastball. He got that thing going.
“It’s deceptive in so many different ways. We can really throw that whenever we want.”
The only time the Tigers got two runners on was the sixth. But with runners at the corners, McKenzie struck out Eric Haase and the lanky right-hander celebrated by pounding his hand into his glove as he walked back to Cleveland's dugout.
“I thought tonight he maintained the energy in his delivery," manager Terry Francona said. "It looked like every pitch, there was intent. Fastball had good life, really good breaking ball. There’s been times where during an inning he’ll have to gather himself. Not tonight. His energy through his delivery was so good.”
Josh Naylor homered in the first off rookie Elvin Rodríguez (0-3), who made his first start for the Tigers since June 10. All-Star Andrés Giménez added a solo shot in the eighth inning for Cleveland.
McKenzie's performance — he matched his longest outing, set a career-best with 109 pitches and won his third start in a row — helped the Guardians end a streak of five consecutive losses to the Tigers. Detroit swept four from Cleveland last week at Comerica Park.
McKenzie, who was plagued by home runs and big innings earlier this season, is gaining confidence every time out.
“The goal is to go out there and put up zeros,” he said. “I was very, very happy about the strikeouts. I think once I got to eight (innings) I told Hedgie (Hedges) when I went out there for the seventh, I was like, ‘I want to go out there and strike out three guys.’ He told me not to worry about it and just go out there and get outs and that’s what we did.”
The Tigers flailed all night.
“We scratched out five hits," manager A.J. Hinch said. "He missed a lot of bats. Obviously, we didn’t score or get a ton of hits. Not a great night for us.”
Naylor put the Guardians up 1-0 in the second when he drove Rodríguez's first pitch over the center-field wall for his 12th homer.
All-Star infielders José Ramírez and Giménez drove in runs in the third inning to give the Guardians a 3-0 lead.
Ramírez followed a double by rookie Steven Kwan and Amed Rosario's base hit with a run-scoring single, and Giménez, who will make his All-Star debut on Tuesday in Los Angeles, delivered a two-out RBI double.
Rosario had his 11th three-hit game this season. In his last 43 games, he's batting .343 with 11 doubles, four homers and 17 RBIs.
Ramírez was added to the Home Run Derby on Wednesday. He has 17 homers this season but has connected just once since June 10 while dealing with a thumb injury.
Francona said any hesitancy about Ramírez participating dissolved quickly.
“When you think about what this guy means to us, he has earned the right,” Francona said. “And he asked, which I thought was really respectful. I told him if it’s something you want to do, we support you.”
Hinch passes down the game's history to his young players whenever possible.
Hinch responded to a question about former Detroit slugger Willie Horton being invited to serve as an honorary coach at next week's All-Star Game and divulged he educates his players about the ones who preceded them.
Last year, Hinch visited the Negro League Museum in Kansas City with some Tigers. Before Thursday's game, he pointed out the retired numbers inside Progressive Field and asked players if they knew about Hall of Famer Bob Feller.
“I don’t necessarily know what it adds to their career,” Hinch said. “We want to share our wisdom about the game, but we also want to share the history.”
Guardians: C Luke Maile's jaw was sore after taking a foul tip off his mask during the ninth of Wednesday's game. Francona said Maile underwent several tests and was feeling OK.
Zach Plesac (2-7, 3.89 ERA) starts for Cleveland against Drew Hutchison (1-4, 4.08) as the four-game series continues Friday.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports