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Will Rehab Be Enough to Bring About the Return of the Mac?

Will Rehab Be Enough to Bring About the Return of the Mac?

| On 05, Jun 2014

For Zach McAllister, pitching to Low-A hitters is becoming a trend. His stint on the 15-day disabled list has brought him to the mound to face Low-A hitters twice now, both in a simulated game at Progressive Field on Friday and again tonight in a rehab outing with the Lake County Captains.

When he threw the simulated game on Friday to Lake County hitters Shane Rowland and Brian Ruiz, the Indians staff had praise for the pitcher’s progress. He threw 30 fastballs before mixing in his other pitches for the final 30 throws of the game, and was given a break in the middle of the outing.

Following his outing tonight, the Indians will re-evaluate McAllister to determine if he’s ready to return to the starting rotation. He is eligible to come off the DL on Friday, and could be back on the mound following the one outing if the Indians deem him ready.

McAllister has been on the DL since May 22 with a strained lower back, which may be the reason for his declining performances as of late. McAllister started the season well, going 3-0 in his first four starts with a 2.28 ERA. He struggled as the season went on, going 0-4 in his last six starts with an ugly 9.51 ERA. He has a 5.89 ERA on the season with an overall 3-4 record.

McAllister’s worst performance of the season came on Friday, May 16, against the Oakland Athletics. He pitched 1.1 innings, giving up five hits, walking three, and allowing eight earned runs, including two home runs. The Indians lost the game 11-1.

McAllister pitched 2.0 innings on May 21 against the Detroit Tigers, giving up five hits and five runs (four earned), while walking two batters, resulting in a 5.89 ERA. The Indians, however, did go on to win the game 11-10 on a walk-off balk to complete the sweep of the Tigers. McAllister did not earn a decision in the game, instead earning his trip to the DL following the win.

Not only has the time on the DL given McAllister time to refine his physical limits, but he also has a chance to recharge from a mental standpoint. At times, it did not seem so much like McAllister was physically struggling as much as he was mentally struggling on the mound. Being unable to go deep into games, suffering massive losses – much of McAllister’s downfall could very easily have come from a self-perpetuating downward spiral, set off by a bad start or two throughout the season. Some time away from the pressures of the game and to get back into the routine of pitching may do much to ease McAllister’s body and mind.

Should McAllister’s outing prove sufficient for the Indians, he could be back on the roster as early as Friday. However, that begs the question – what would happen to the rotation once McAllister comes back?

McAllister has been a mainstay in the Tribe’s starting rotation for the past two seasons. Last year, he posted a 3.75 ERA and went 9-9 in 24 starts. He went 6-8 in 2012 with a 4.24 ERA in his 22 starts with the team.

Since McAllister went on the DL, left-hander T.J. House has been called up from AAA Columbus to fill the fifth spot in the rotation. He has made three starts for the Tribe, going 0-1 with a 4.00 ERA. In the 18 innings he has thrown as a starter for the big league team, House has given up eight runs (all earned), has walked five, and has notched 13 strikeouts. Although he lost his Major League debut in Baltimore when the Orioles trounced the Tribe 8-4, House has bounced back as a strong starting prospect for the Indians.

McAllister has been disappointing for the team this season. He had potential to be a solid starter, but has succumbed to struggles that may be mental, physical, or – most likely – a combination of both.

Once McAllister is activated, it will be interesting to see if House is sent back down to Columbus or kept with the big league club as an extra bullpen arm. With the current state of bullpen affairs, having an arm like House’s for use if needed would certainly not be a bad thing. House appeared as a reliever once this season, pitching one shutout inning.

The addition of House to the Captains’ roster is certainly a good one, albeit at the hands of McAllister’s deterioration. Should McAllister be able to rebound after rehab and return to being a solid starter, having the benefit of House in the bullpen can only strengthen the team. If McAllister succumbs to the woes he has been dealing with all year, though, House will be waiting to jump back on the mound.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images