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Jan. 27—Triston McKenzie had little to smile about during an injury-plagued 2023 season, but the calendar has flipped and the Guardians' slender right-hander is eager to get back to his 2022 form when he started 31 games.
A shoulder injury and then an elbow injury limited McKenzie to four starts last season. He met with reporters Jan. 20 at Guards Fest and said he is feeling fine.
"I feel great," McKenzie said. "Ready for spring training, ready for the season.
"The buildup has been a little bit different because I threw at the end of the year and I took so much time off during the year. I've just been throwing a little bit more throughout the offseason. I'd say the buildup is a little more gradual as opposed to slow to high."
McKenzie injured his right shoulder in the final start of spring training last March. He was unable to pitch for more than two months. He made starts on June 4 and June 10 and then the elbow injury kept him on the shelf until Sept. 24. He gave up three earned runs in 1 2/3 innings against the Orioles and then pitched 4 1/3 innings Sept. 30 while giving up one earned run against the Tigers to go into the offseason on a positive note.
McKenzie and Manager Steven Vogt spoke on the phone soon after Vogt was hired in early November, but the two did not meet in person until Guards Fest weekend. Vogt retained most of the coaches who worked under Terry Francona, who retired as manager after last season. McKenzie is happy Carl Willis is returning as pitching coach.
"I think baseball's a game of consistency," McKenzie said. "Having somebody that you can look to and know that you can rely on is very good. Those relationships are not necessarily easy to build, so it's good that I have someone that I can trust and that I can lean on that I'm comfortable with."
Willis is in his second stint as the pitching coach in Cleveland. He was with the Indians from 2003-2009. He returned to the Indians in 2018 after working four years with the Mariners and three with the Red Sox as the pitching coach for those teams. He pitched for the Tigers, White Sox, Reds and Twins in a career that spanned 12 seasons from 1984-95.