In a Season of Struggles, McAllister Emerges as a Starter Moving Forward
After a disappointing 2012 Cleveland Indians season the organization is at a crossroads to decide how to progress with the organization, not just for the 2013 season but several seasons to come. Decisions involve ownerships, the front office, managerial and coaching decisions and the players. For the month of October, we’ll look at how the Indians ended up in their current predicament, but most importantly, Where Do the Indians Go From Here. Today we analyze a player that will most likely see an increased role in 2013, versus the role they had in 2012.
By Mike Brandyberry
In a roller coaster season for the Cleveland Indians, no one player may have rode the highs and lows as much as Zach McAllister.
Despite starting the season at Triple-A Columbus, the right-handed starting pitcher was 6-8, with a 4.24 ERA in 22 starts with the Indians. And while McAllister had misfortune and setbacks along the way, he also proved himself enough that the Indians are probably counting on him to be in the starting rotation when the Tribe leaves Goodyear, Arizona late next March.
After missing out on a 25-man roster spot this spring—and actually receiving little consideration—McAllister was recalled to make a spot start in a doubleheader on May 7 against the Chicago White Sox. Under the new MLB Collective Bargaining agreement, teams can add a 26th player to the roster for twin bills.
McAllister pitched six strong innings, scattering six hits and striking out five, while allowing four runs—only two earned—in the 8-6 victory over Chicago. After his impressive start, he remained in the rotation for the next three turns while Josh Tomlin nursed a sore elbow on the disabled list. However, despite going 3-1, with a 3.96 ERA in four May starts, he was demoted to Columbus when Tomlin returned from the disabled list. McAllister didn’t allow himself to become frustrated from the setback.
“It really wasn’t frustrating at all,” McAllister said. “I knew I was just making a couple starts for him. In a situation like that, you can’t be too upset when you already know it is going to happen.”
When McAllister returned to Columbus, he didn’t just wait for the call back to the big leagues, but made the most of his opportunity. In four June starts with the Clippers, he went 2-0 with a 3.09 ERA and when Jeanmar Gomez lost his sixth straight decision in Houston in late June, McAllister replaced him in the rotation. When McAllister took the mound on June 28 in Baltimore, he wasn’t filling someone’s spot, he had earned his own.
“I never looked at it as that I had a spot, I always looked at it as I had a chance to have a spot,” McAllister said. “I just have tried to make the most of my opportunities. I never knew when it might not happen again. As far as really feeling comfortable, even up until my last start I just keep that mentality of going out to prove something and show them what I can do.”
McAllister continued to prove what he could do with the Indians in July, going 2-1 with a 2.56 ERA in five starts, defeating the Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays—two playoff contenders at the time. But, just like the Tribe’s season, McAllister took a downward slide in August. He won only once in six starts and recorded just two quality starts for the month.
His second half slide coincided with the rest of the starting rotation downfall, an eleven and nine game losing streak and the firing of pitching coach Scott Radinsky. The Tribe’s 5-24 record in August was the worst in the franchise’s 112 year history.
While closing in on career highs in innings pitched—and eventually eclipsing those plateaus—McAllister never felt his August struggles were a product of tiring or wilting in the summer heat. His setbacks were a product of his own poor execution.
“I just needed to execute better,” McAllister said. “My last couple starts I was really happy with the way I pitched. You can’t really say that the innings had anything to do with it because of the way I finished.”
Despite early September struggles McAllister did rebound to have three quality starts in his final four outings. His late season success was due in part to a better approach on the mound and further preparation.
“It’s just a matter of being able to execute pitches better and doing a better job of understanding what hitters are trying to do in certain situations,” McAllister said. “I have to do a better job of doing my homework on them and that’s definitely a learning process for me that I definitely got better from.”
Looking ahead to 2013, McAllister—along with Justin Masterson—will be entrusted to help try and rebuild and stabilize a rotation that faltered so badly in the second half. Who will round out the rest of the rotation remains to be seen as the team has options pending on Ubaldo Jimenez and Roberto Hernandez, Carlos Carrasco is returning from Tommy John and Corey Kluber and Gomez could compete for spots too.
Regardless of the remaining available spots, both Team President Mark Shapiro and General Manager Chris Antonetti clearly named McAllister as a young, core member of the pitching staff moving forward. For McAllister it’s comforting to know he proved himself in 2012, but sees next season as a new year to grow and new challenges.
“I definitely feel the season for me was a good one,” McAllister said. “I thought I was consistent overall and going into next season I’m looking forward to another opportunity. I don’t feel things are given out to people, you earn them. This was a good step forward to make a name for myself for the future, but again you go to spring training with the mentality that you have to earn a spot and pitch well.”
With a roster full of uncertainties for 2013, it appears McAllister is one of the few who will be counted on moving forward.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images