Rookie reliever Allen proves he belongs in Cleveland
Mid-round pick in 2011 Draft hasn't allowed a run in 12 appearances in Majors
CLEVELAND -- It was an opportunity. That much was certain. Maybe Cody Allen would get into the game. More likely, he would have a nice view from the bullpen for a big league Spring Training exhibition, and then head back to Minor League camp.
Allen tried to curb his expectations accordingly.
When Allen was told he was going to head to Goodyear Ballpark to back up the Major League staff, he was also informed that he probably would not pitch. He would, however, receive big league meal money for the day. Tough to beat roughly $85 in your wallet for soaking in some Arizona sun.
"In Minor League camp," Allen said with a smile, "we were getting $12 per day, four days a week."
Then, it happened.
Sinkerballer Justin Masterson swiftly surrendered six runs to the Reds, and he saw his pitch count climb to its early-spring limit before the end of the second inning on March 5. While Masterson stood inside a tunnel behind the right-field wall, discussing his outing with reporters, Allen was on the mound.
Five pitches. Five strikes. Two outs.
"We're kind of sitting there, just watching the game or whatever," Indians reliever Joe Smith said. "And all of a sudden, this kid comes in after a starter, just pumping 95 mph and throwing big league breaking balls.
"We were like, 'Who the heck is this kid? He's ready.'"
Allen opened the eyes that mattered, too. The Indians even asked him to head over to the big league side a few more times.
"He stood out from the get-go," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "He impressed our Major League staff."
Even so, Allen could hardly have envisioned he would ascend from Class A ball to the Majors in a span of a few months. Sitting on the bench in the visiting dugout inside Seattle's Safeco Field on a recent afternoon, Allen peered out at the sun-splashed diamond.
"Everything has literally worked out perfect," Allen said. "Perfect."
Allen could not believe what he was hearing.
It was hard enough to have your entire college coaching staff sent packing, but Allen did not expect to be going along with them. He was fresh off Tommy John surgery on his right elbow -- he had not even started a throwing program -- and the new head coach at the University of Central Florida was telling Allen there was no place for him on the roster.
There were only so many scholarships to go around and the new staff wanted to bring in its own recruits.
Allen was being released.
"It was like, 'Where do you go from here?'" Allen said. "I was told that I basically wasn't good enough to play there. Every day after that, I woke up with the intention of proving that coach wrong. I just used that as motivation."
Craig Cozart, who recruited Allen for UCF's pitching staff in 2008, took over as the head coach of High Point's baseball program in North Carolina after being fired from Central Florida. Allen called Cozart and talked about the road ahead. The young pitcher was told not to give up.
"He was like, 'Stick with it. Grind it out. You're going to be all right,'" Allen said. "So that's what I did."
In order to keep pitching, Allen -- an Orlando, Fla., native -- transferred to St. Petersburg Junior College. While dealing with the rehab and recovery from reconstructive arm surgery, Allen's velocity came and went, along with his command.
When the Indians took a chance on Allen by selecting him in the 16th round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, the young righty was not confident he could make a good first impression. So, Allen didn't sign and headed to High Point, where he was reunited with Cozart for the 2011 college season.
"I felt like I needed another year," Allen said.
Allen teamed with Cozart on tackling his mechanics and consistency. In that regard, Allen felt he made progress. In terms of his Draft stock, Allen took a few steps backward. Cleveland came calling again, but this time it was in the 23rd round. He was baseball's 698th pick in the 2011 Draft.
"Either the Indians liked me a lot or nobody else liked me at all," Allen said with a laugh. "Once I got drafted the second time, I got drafted low and I was disappointed about that. But I was like, 'Let's get started.' I signed right away."
Smith will not say it yet.
He pitched in 18 games before he heard the five words every player expects to hear after reaching the Majors. That is how long it took for the sidearmer to allow a run in his first taste of the big leagues. Billy Wagner did the honors during Smith's first season with the Mets in 2007.
"Billy walked up to me," Smith recalled, "and said, 'Finally. Welcome to the big leagues.'"
Five years later, Smith is giving Allen the same treatment.
The rookie's time will come.
"Joe told me the other night," Allen said, "he won't say, 'Welcome to the big leagues,' because I haven't given up a run yet."
No, Allen is in a dream. Reality has yet to sink in.
In 12 appearances since joining the Indians in July, the 23-year-old has pitched 13 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out 10 batters in that span. Allen has issued nine walks, but he has made the necessary pitches to escape harm to this point.
"He hasn't looked intimidated at all," Acta said.
It has been a continuation of his rapid rise through Cleveland's system.
Across four levels last season -- during which Allen topped out at Double-A -- he went 5-1 with a 1.65 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 54 2/3 innings. This season, the Indians started him at Class A Advanced Carolina, and he continued to roll. Between three Minor League levels, Allen posted a 1.87 ERA with 53 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings.
"You don't really know what a kid's got until you challenge him," said Smith, who also reached the Majors a year after being drafted. "They started him in A ball, and challenged him by moving him up and moving him up. Finally, they just had to bring him up here."
So far, everything has worked out perfect.
"For the first two weeks," Allen said, "I probably had a moment every day where I'd just be sitting at my locker or something and I'd look around and be like, 'You're in the big leagues.' I still have moments like that."
"He isn't in the big leagues yet," Smith said with a smirk.