Allen Blazes Through Minors To Indians Bullpen
By Mike Brandyberry
It isn’t supposed to be easy. However, Indians relief pitcher Cody Allen has made his progression through the Tribe minor league system look just that.
Allen was a 23rd round selection in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft just 13 months ago, and now he is pitching in the big leagues. He’s only the second player from his draft class to make it to that level to date — Arizona’s Trevor Bauer, the third overall selection, was the first.
“It was definitely surprising,” Allen said. “Everyone expects to come in and pitch well, but pitching well does not always mean moving up as quickly. Moving as quickly as I did was surprising.”
Allen is a hard-throwing, right-handed relief pitcher whose fastball is consistently around 94 to 96 mph, with a hard breaking curveball. His blazing fastball has been one reason he progressed through the system so quickly.
After being drafted last summer, Allen signed very quickly and was assigned short-season Mahoning Valley. There he made 14 relief appearances, throwing 33.2 innings and finished with a 2.14 ERA. At the end of last season, he made appearances at Lake County, Kinston and Akron. This season Allen opened at High-A Carolina where he dominated, striking out eight hitters in four innings. He quickly was promoted to Akron, and after five appearances was in Columbus by the end of April.
“I thought I’d be in Carolina for a couple months, maybe go to Akron and if Columbus made the playoffs and rosters expanded, I might go up there,” Allen said. “I didn’t have any expectations of where I wanted to end up. I just wanted to get better at aspects of the game that I need to get better at and let everything else take care of itself.”
Allen was a starting pitcher in college, both at St. Petersburg College and High Point University before the Indians converted him to a relief pitcher to be able to better utilize his fastball. He had Tommy John surgery in 2009, but was able rather easily to regain the velocity on his fastball. He attributes much of his rebirth to rest from the surgery and the quality Indians training staff.
“Getting farther and farther away from Tommy John surgery has helped,” Allen said. “Using the resources around me once I was with the Indians, using their great training staff and strength staff has helped. I honestly think it was just more time off. Some guys don’t see their velocity return for two, three, four years.”
For Allen, transitioning from having a starter’s mindset to a relief pitcher’s has been challenging. He feels he’s had to make both physical and mental adjustments.
“Teaching yourself how to be ready every day is key,” Allen said. “As a starter, you get in this five-day routine where you throw, then you’re off, then bullpen. When you’re a reliever, you’re mentally trying to get ready every day. You’re trying to get your body ready every day, that’s a big adjustment.”
Allen will have to be ready every day with the Indians, as his power arm makes him an eventual back-end of the bullpen option. But with Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith holding down the last three innings, Allen will have to look for places to pitch. He hopes to be a bridge from the starters to the back-end relievers, but will take whatever opportunities are given to him in the meantime.
“When I talked with (Manager) Manny (Acta), he said he wasn’t going to be able to tell me a role,” Allen said. “That bullpen has done a very good job all year. The late inning roles are locked up by three or four guys. I’m just gonna get in when I can and pitch well and let everything else take care of itself.”
Since receiving his call to the big leagues on July 20, Allen has appeared in three games and has yet to allow a run, including pitching 1.1 innings in last night’s 5-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers. Allen worked a scoreless seventh inning, then returned to strike out Miguel Cabrera to start the eighth inning before being removed for left-hander Tony Sipp to match up with lefty Prince Fielder.
While he works to define his role in the Indians’ bullpen, the major league experience and call to Cleveland all still seems surreal at times. An Orlando native, his parents, grandparents and friends all have made it to Cleveland already to see him pitch. Finding out about his promotion on July 19 was a moment he will never forget, however.
“I found out Thursday about four o’clock. It was getaway day for us in Columbus, and the manager pulled me in the office and told me I got called up,” Allen said. “I packed up my stuff, called my parents and everyone congratulated me. It was a very good feeling. I’ll never forget that moment. The team left and I had the rest of the day to collect my thoughts.”
It’s not supposed to be as easy as Allen has made it look, and hopefully the journey that is his career has just begun.
Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland.com