It happens nearly every day, yet it seems to go unmentioned.
Cody Allen or Bryan Shaw trot in from the bullpen and get hitters out. It happens nearly every day. Often, they both come in from the bullpen if the game is tight. Without one or both, the Indians likely would not wake up Monday morning in position for a wild card spot with a game and a half lead over the Texas Rangers with just six games remaining.
In spring training both Allen and Shaw seemed to be battling each other for a place in the Indians bullpen. When they each made it, it seemed inevitable that eventually one would have to return to Triple-A Columbus in the always evolving roster shuffle since they each had options remaining. Each survived the early shuffling and in September have proven to be two of the Indians most valuable pitchers.
In his first full season in the big leagues Allen has dazzled. The 23rd round selection from High Point University in 2011, streaked through the Indians’ minor league system in just over a year from signing his first professional contract and debuted in late July last season. This year, he’s 6-1, with a 2.53 ERA in 67.2 innings and 73 games. Allen has been the team’s most reliable and durable reliever, serving in a couple different roles.
At the beginning of the season, Allen seemed to often pitch when the Indians were behind, being asked to hold the deficit in tact so that the offense could try to get back in the game. His success in that role, combined with injuries to Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano in the first half of the season forced Allen into a setup role when the Indians had a close lead in the late innings.
This month, Allen has heard the phone ring for him in the bullpen often. He’s made 12 appearances, pitching 8.2 innings, allowing two earned runs for a 1-0 record and 3.12 ERA in September. He appeared in three of the four games against the Houston Astros, allowing just one hit in the series and 2.2 scoreless innings.
Meanwhile Shaw started the season strong in the bullpen, but faltered in the summer months. One of the four players acquired in the three-team trade involving the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Cincinnati Reds, Shaw was not the big name acquisition but may turn out to be the most valuable one in the 2013 season. Shaw is 5-3, with 3.38 ERA in 67 games and 72.0 innings pitched this season.
After a very strong April where he was a reliever given the responsibility of getting tough outs between the starter and back end guys like Joe Smith, Pestano and Perez he faltered in the summer months. When Perez and Pestano were injured and roles began to shuffle, Shaw struggled with added responsibility. His struggles instead moved him closer to the front of the bullpen, pitching in a role like where Allen was at the start of the season and in July he may have been close to a Triple-A demotion.
But in September, Shaw has not allowed a run in 10 games. He’s 3-0 with a save this month, including two stints of two innings or more. His two innings on Sept. 13 in relief of Danny Salazar and Nick Hagadone helped bridge the gap of a short start to Allen and the rest of the late-inning matchup guys. His September surge has definitely caught the eye of Indians manager Terry Francona and his confidence in Shaw has risen.
It’s likely the bullpen will receive a shake up in the offseason, with Allen and Shaw being expected to assume setup or even closing duties, but in the meantime they’ll remain in the middle for as long as this season continues. With starters Scott Kazmir, Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber each laboring as the season comes to a close, and Justin Masterson and Salazar both likely headed to the bullpen for the postseason, Allen and Shaw’s roles could slightly change again.
Regardless of their role, they’ll likely get the call nearly every day like they have all season long.
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