GOODYEAR, Ariz.: Young right-hander Cody Allen could have come into spring training with a legitimate shot at becoming the Indians’ closer.
For that matter, right-hander Bryan Shaw could have done the same.
When the Indians released embattled closer Chris Perez on Oct. 31, they had a number of internal bullpen members who could have slid over into the ninth-inning role a la baseball’s next-man-up motto.
That’s why it could have quickly become a sticking point for them, when the club instead brought in veteran closer John Axford to fill the void. The reason it didn’t, however, is a nod to the job manager Terry Francona did publicly and pitching coach Mickey Callaway privately, in not allowing any potential hard feelings to fester.
As Francona and Callaway have pointed out countless times over the past couple weeks, it wasn’t that Allen and Shaw weren’t good enough to close. Instead, they became too invaluable in their late-relief roles to have to replace — especially with the loss of four relievers from last year’s pen.
Allen’s ascent to the major leagues is an unusual story all around. As the Tribe’s 23rd-round pick (that’s 698th overall) in the 2011 draft, he needed a mere year and a half in the minor leagues before breaking into the bigs.
Right after he was drafted, Allen pitched at four different levels in the Tribe’s farm system over a half season. The next year, he repeated the feat — but with the jump from level to level ending up in Cleveland, where he made 27 appearances.
Last season, Allen made the Indians’ camp roster and quickly proved his worth to the veteran Francona.
“Whenever we got into a jam last year, Cody was the guy we went to,” he said.
If there are any hard feelings over remaining in his role as the Indians’ fire extinguisher, it’s hard to tell, as Allen’s 25 years belie his maturity.
“Being able to come into a game with guys on base and get outs in big spots helps prepare me to deal with pressure situations,” he said.
“That’s what the ninth inning is — a pressure situation. Those last three outs of a game are the hardest outs to get because there’s really no safety net.
“If I struggle, they can bring in somebody else and we still have a chance. If the closer comes in, struggles and gives it up, the game’s over. That’s why you want an anchor like [Axford] who has experience and has done it very well.”
Last year, Allen’s club-leading 77 appearances were second most in the American League and second most in franchise history (Bobby Howry had 79 in 2005). He also finished tied for fourth among relief wins (six), fifth in strikeouts (88), 13th in innings (70⅓) and 16th in ERA (2.43).
Allen also averaged 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings last year (third most in club history among relievers with 65-plus innings), but he knows his place on the club.
“I just don’t think we’re at a place this year as a team where we try a bunch of stuff out,” he said.
“We want to win from the get-go … I just come in and try not think too much about the situation. I just think about coming in and stopping everything.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.