With playoff baseball right around the corner, cleveland.com is taking a look at the biggest issues facing Terry Francona and the Cleveland Indians. As the 2018 regular season winds down, the answers to these questions will reveal whether or not the Tribe is Ready for October.
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Things can get overlooked in September. The rosters can expand to 40 players and managers routinely use six, seven and eight relievers in games because the restrictions of the 25-man roster no longer exist.
So, if a reliever goes missing for a couple of days, no one really notices. So, it has been with Cody Allen, the franchise leader in saves for the Indians, who hasn’t pitched since Sept. 5 against the Tigers. The Indians’ current talking points have focused on Trevor Bauer’s comeback from a stress fracture in his right leg, Josh Donaldson’s availability after three months of inactivity, Jose Ramirez’s slump and whether or not Andrew Miller can just be Andrew Miller again.
Allen’s late-inning troubles seemed to have been corrected sometime in late August or early September. So why the sabbatical and what does it mean for the postseason-bound Indians?
Manager Terry Francona and Allen said there is no reason for concern. He threw a bullpen session before Saturday’s 7-5 win over the Red Sox and is scheduled to pitch against the White Sox on Monday night at Guaranteed Rate Field as the Indians begin their final trip of the regular season.
“Yeah, everything is good,” said Allen on Saturday night. “We had some struggles there in August and I feel like I’ve thrown the ball a lot better in September. But it’s not only those innings in the appearances in September, but I was throwing a lot in-between appearances, just ironing stuff out.”
Relievers usually don’t throw much between appearances because they get used a lot in games. Allen felt the extra work was catching to him.
“Going into that last series against Detroit where we clinched (Sept. 14-Sep.16), I could feel it kind of catching up with me a little bit,” said Allen. “I wasn’t recovering as well as I hoped.”
Allen got together with Francona and pitching coach Carl Willis charted a plan similar to spring training. In spring training, the Indians usually don’t push the starters and relievers who have pitched a lot of innings the season before. They let them ease into the exhibition schedule and that’s what they decided to do with Allen. Clinching the AL Central on Sept. 15, the earliest clinch by any team this season, gave them the ability to do it.
“We were able to map out like how many times do I need to get in because now we want to focus on going back-to-back, going multiple innings, doing up-downs (pitching an inning, sitting down and coming out to pitch another inning) . . .things we’re going to do in the postseason,” said Allen. “So, (we’re) getting a little rest before kind of getting into that.
“It’s not like I’ve been down for three weeks where I need to ramp up. It’s four or five days and I’m still throwing bullpens. So, we’re still getting off the mound. It’s just more of a controlled environment.”
Allen said the Indians did the same thing with him last year when they won 102 games.
“We did it last year and we did it a little bit in 2016, but in 2016 we clinched a little later and then we were playing for home-field advantage,” said Allen. “We were last year, too, but we were able to do it a little bit differently.”
If Allen pitches Monday, it means he will have had a week’s break between games. Overall, he’s 4-6 with a career-high 4.06 ERA and 27 saves in 32 chances. He posted a 5.40 ERA in June, a 6.57 ERA in July and a 4.85 ERA in August. In September, he has not allowed a run in seven appearances, covering 6 2/3 innings.
Allen and Andrew Miller were cornerstones of the bullpen that took the Indians to Game 7 of the World Series in 2016. Allen did not allow a run in 10 appearances, covering 13 2/3 innings, in that postseason run. He struck out 24, walked five and went six-for-six in save situations.
This will be Allen’s fourth postseason with the Indians. In 15 games, he has a 0.47 ERA, allowing one earned run in 19 1/3 innings. He’s struck out 33, walked eight and saved seven games.
On Oct. 5, Allen and Miller will enter the postseason for what is expected to be the final time with the Indians because they’re both free agents after the World Series. They were a force in 2016. Now the degree of certainty and reliability they brought to the mound two years ago needs to be re-established if the Indians intend to get past the best-of-five ALDS.
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