McAllister Looking for Consistent, Healthy Season
Bob Toth | On 23, Mar 2014
The Cleveland Indians open the 2014 season with new expectations despite many questions. The Indians’ 25-man roster will look different than the group that won 92 games and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Tampa Bay Rays. While the roster may change and the expectations grow, Cleveland will need answer many questions this spring before opening the season in Oakland on March 31. Today, we look at one of the Indians’ players who has a key role in holding the team together.
Zach McAllister is penciled in as the number three starter in Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona’s starting rotation. The move did not come as much of a surprise given the current collection of starters on the roster.
The 2014 season will mark the second time in the big league career of the 26-year-old right-hander that he begins a season in the Tribe’s starting rotation.
McAllister’s spring had been relatively quiet until his start on March 18th. In a night game at Goodyear against the San Francisco Giants, he surrendered six runs on nine hits in three innings of work. He allowed a two-run home run in part of a four-run first inning and gave up back-to-back shots in the third.
One rough outing, especially during spring training while pitchers are trying to stretch out and work on various in-game adjustments, is not necessarily a cause for alarm. It was the first night game for the team this spring, and San Francisco’s starter Ryan Vogelsong was tagged for nine runs of his own and left before completing the third inning.
“I thought he actually threw the ball pretty well,” said skipper Francona following the game. “I asked Mickey [Callaway] what am I missing here? He said, ‘He’s just getting hit around.’”
With the losses of both Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir to free agency and question marks abound in the present rotation, it is something worth watching moving forward.
His 2013 season was off to a good start over his first ten appearances. He was living up to his bill as a bit of an innings eater, seven times throwing over 100 pitches and in all games reaching at least the fifth inning. In each of the outings, he surrendered three earned runs or less. Six different times he had “quality starts” of six innings and three earned runs or fewer.
McAllister, though, was the recipient of little run support over those games. The Indians went 6-4 in those ten starts, but by allowing three runs or less, he had done his part to minimize damage and to keep the team in a position to win. In the four losses, the team scored three runs just once and provided two or fewer in the remaining three. One of the wins was a 1-0 final over Oakland on May 7th.
An 11-3 loss on June 2nd to Tampa Bay ended his streak of 12 straight starts of five innings or more, extending to the end of the 2012 season. He allowed five runs (four earned) in four and one-third innings and had racked up a high pitch count over the first two innings.
It was later shared by McAllister that he had felt some discomfort in one of his fingers that had prevented him from comfortably throwing his curveball, a needed off-speed pitch to complement his fastball, cutter, and changeup. Prior to his next scheduled start against Detroit on June 8th, he was placed on the disabled list with a sprained middle finger on his pitching hand.
“It happened over time. I never felt it pop or anything like that. I know other players have done it on one pitch where it pops and they know right away something happened,” said McAllister at TribeFest in January. “For me it was a lot of irritation and being uncomfortable with it. That ended up being the cause of it. I’m glad I was able to figure out what was wrong with it. It was still frustrating as well.”
McAllister was on the disabled list for six weeks before returning to Cleveland’s rotation on July 23rd.
“It was frustrating,” said McAllister. “It was definitely a learning experience for me, as far as how to deal with an injury like that. Something as little as your finger can cause that much trouble. It was a big injury.
“I was definitely glad that the time line, I thought, was right on point for what they needed to do. [Trainer] Lonnie [Soloff] and his staff did a great job of keeping me informed throughout the whole entire process and having good feedback between the both of us. It’s a non-issue any more. Obviously they did their job and the rehab went well.”
He made 13 more appearances on the season, posting a 5-4 record with a 4.06 ERA. Unlike the first half of the year, he was not pitching quite as deep into games, which may have been a response to the .351 batting average hitters had when seeing him a third time in a ball game. He topped the 100 pitch mark just four times and none after August 24th. He had four separate outings in which he allowed four earned runs or more and was tagged with losses in three of them.
Despite that, when the team needed wins the most down the stretch, McAllister was there for the team, even with a limited pitch and inning count. In his final three starts, he limited Chicago, Houston, and Minnesota to a total of two runs in 16 innings of work. The Indians won all three games as they pushed into the postseason.
“I was definitely happy with the way the season finished,” said McAllister, “for me and for us as a team as well.”
He finished 2013 with a 9-9 record, a 3.75 ERA, and a 1.36 WHIP in 24 starts. Opposing hitters batted .257 against him. He allowed 13 home runs in 134 1/3 innings.
McAllister was a candidate for Manny Acta’s starting rotation in 2012, but instead started the season in Columbus. After a hot start there, he was recalled for the first game of a doubleheader with the Chicago White Sox and earned his first Major League win behind six strong innings of work.
He was optioned back to Columbus, but a wrist injury for Josh Tomlin brought McAllister back to Cleveland, where he worked three more starts while posting an 0-1 record. He was sent back to Triple-A as Tomlin looked ready to return, but his stay in the state capital would be short lived and he would be back up in the Cleveland mix just over a month later.
McAllister was steady, if not durable, in 18 more appearances in the Indians rotation that season, working an additional 100 1/3 innings while earning a 5-7 record and compiling a 4.31 ERA.
He finished the season 6-7 with a 4.24 ERA in 22 starts. He was 5-2 with a 2.98 ERA in eleven starts for Columbus.
He spent most of the 2011 season in Triple-A, where he was 12-3 with a 3.32 ERA in 25 starts. He made four appearances at the big league level, including throwing four innings in his Major League debut at home against Toronto on July 7th.
McAllister was acquired as the player to be named later from the New York Yankees in the midseason trade of outfielder Austin Kearns in 2010. He was a third round draft pick in the 2006 amateur draft by the Yankees. He was 8-10 with a 5.09 ERA in 24 starts for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees Triple-A affiliate, at the time of the trade.
McAllister will be third in line in 2014 for the Tribe, getting a start in the opening series in Oakland. He and his rotation mates will be charged with the task of providing similar contributions, if not better, than the starting five from last season that surprised many in a rotation thought to be full of more doubt than certainty.
“I think any time any of us takes the ball we are the ace on that day,” said McAllister. “We can only pitch once every five days. [Jimenez]’s definitely going to be a loss for us, he was a great pitcher, and did extremely well. But at the same time, he was still only able to go out there once every five days. So those guys in the rotation, if we do our jobs, things are going to go well.”
In order for him to most effectively do his part, the Indians hope that McAllister can show improved control to pitch in more frequently to right-handed hitters, who hit .267 off of him last season, as compared to the .249 mark of left-handed batters.
Can McAllister build upon the success he displayed on the mound during his injury-shortened 2013 season in the coming 2014 year?
“I hope so. I hope I do. I’m definitely preparing for that type of season,” he said. “Those are kind of my expectations. Every year I’ve been able to learn something about myself and about what I need to do to improve and help us win. I think last year I said I had learning experiences throughout different parts of the year where you really gotta pay attention to what’s going on and try to get better from things. Hopefully that will help me out for this following season.”
The Indians will need a healthy, durable McAllister to eat up some of the innings that they lost with the significant turnover in the starting rotation.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer