The Cleveland Guardians have started the 2024 season strong, going 12-6 through their first 18 games. Yet, Cleveland is taking a different approach with their success. A team that typically relies on pitching has produced some of the best offensive results in the sport so far. The starting pitching, meanwhile, has struggled at times.

Of course, losing ace Shane Bieber to Tommy John surgery was far from ideal. Bieber was excellent through two starts before it was revealed he suffered an elbow injury. With Bieber out, the Guardians are likely counting on Triston McKenzie to lead the rotation.

McKenzie, a 26-year-old who has always featured no shortage of potential, has dealt with injury concerns in his career. He has displayed signs of an ace-caliber ceiling in the past when healthy, but the Guardians starting pitcher has struggled in 2024. McKenzie's decision to turn down Tommy John surgery last year has some wondering if he may be dealing with an injury amid his underperformance.

According to an article by Zack Meisel and Jason Lloyd of The Athletic, McKenzie selected “rest and rehab” over surgery. Of course, undergoing Tommy John surgery means a pitcher will miss at least one year and possibly longer. Triston McKenzie wanted to find a way to return to the Guardians rotation as soon as possible without surgery.

McKenzie recently reacted to his decision last year, via The Athletic.

“Am I delaying the inevitable? Am I doing what’s right for me?” McKenzie said. “Am I not? I feel good now and I can’t say I made the wrong decision.”

Triston McKenzie's 2024 season with Guardians

Cleveland Guardians starting pitcher Triston McKenzie (24) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Chicago White Sox at Progressive Field.
David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports

McKenzie pitched well during his first season in the big leagues in 2020. He took a step in the wrong direction in 2021 before enjoying a breakout 2022 campaign.

In 2023, McKenzie appeared in just four games due to the aforementioned injuries. That is also when he needed to make the Tommy John surgery decision.

McKenzie's choice is one that will earn respect from his teammates and fans, but the 2024 results have been underwhelming up to this point. He has pitched to a 6.23 ERA across three starts (13 innings pitched). Of course, that is an incredibly small sample size and there is plenty of time to turn things around.

Nevertheless, McKenzie's Tommy John surgery move has become a subject of discussion.

Of course, opting against Tommy John surgery is risky. McKenzie addressed the fear element of potential injury concerns after the decision.

“I wouldn’t say you’re always fearful of it,” McKenzie said. “I think it’s something that comes with the game. I’ve been hurt and sometimes there’s nothing you can do to control it, there’s nothing you can do to avoid it.”

With Shane Bieber injured, Triston McKenzie, who is just 26 years old, is the oldest pitcher in Cleveland's rotation aside from veteran Carlos Carrasco. Carrasco's veteran prowess will be crucial for the Guardians, but Cleveland is hopeful that McKenzie will be able to emerge as the team's ace.

And that's something that may hold true beyond 2024. Bieber will be a free agent following this season. Unless the Guardians re-sign the former American League Cy Young winner, McKenzie will probably draw the start on Opening Day in 2025 if he can turn things around and pitch well this season.