PEORIA, Ariz. — Cody Allen will start the season as just another middle reliever in the Indians’ bullpen. But if the recent past is any guide to his future, it won’t take long before he moves up the pecking order.
Last year, Allen, 24, began the season at high Class-A Carolina, but before you could say “All-American Soap Box Derby,” he had moved up to the Double-A Akron Aeros. He barged his way to Columbus after only five appearances for the Aeros, but Triple-A couldn’t contain him either, and he found himself pitching in the big leagues.
Allen did all this by July 20, enough time to make 27 appearances for the Indians. In 29 innings, he posted a 3.72 ERA with 15 walks and 27 strikeouts.
What kind of impression did he make? After one of his early appearances at Cleveland’s Progressive Field, a scout from a rival team shook his head and said, “They’ve really got something with this kid.”
“I’m happy with it but I tapered off at the end, the last couple of weeks,” Allen said. “Guys made adjustments to me, and
I didn’t adjust back. I just didn’t throw that great at the end of the year. If you make good pitches, you probably are going to get guys out.”
Allen credited the system rather than his own skills for his meteoric rise through the farm system.
“I was only in Carolina for five days,” he said. “But moving up depends on what’s happening above you. I knew when Nick Hagadone went up (to the Indians) that I might get moved. And when someone got hurt at Columbus, I got moved to Akron. That made sense. But I didn’t expect to go from Akron to Columbus so fast. That was a big surprise.”
Although Allen didn’t skip any levels, he climbed the ladder so quickly that not only didn’t he have time to smell the roses, he barely had time to gauge the quality of the hitters.
He didn’t seem fazed that hitters at each succeeding rung up the ladder were more experienced and more skilled.
“Yeah, they were a little,” Allen said. “But Manny (former Tribe manager Manny Acta) said it best when I got called up. He said don’t change anything you’ve done. The way you’re pitching is the reason you’re here, so don’t try to be a pitcher you’re not. Force the hitters to make adjustments to you.
“Obviously, the talent level got better, guys were a little more seasoned, and the game moved a little faster. Your margin for error is smaller, but it’s the same game. It’s still 60 feet, 6 inches from the mound to the plate.”
Allen has a six-degrees-of-separation connection to the Indians. He graduated from Boone High School in Orlando, Fla., which has produced five other major leaguers: catchers Ron Karkovice and Joe Oliver plus pitchers Mike Maroth, Paul Wilson and Tom Dixon.
Karkovice’s high school coach was John Hart, general manager of the Indians during their glory years in the 1990s. Hart was “discovered” by a Baltimore Orioles scout who came to watch Karkovice.
That happened long before Allen became a starter for Boone then for High Point University. He’s not sure why he was switched to the bullpen after signing a pro contract, but he doesn’t regret the move.
“Right after I signed, I went straight to the bullpen,” Allen said. “I liked it, probably because I pitched well right away. I had success doing it, so I ran with it. I think they probably had so many guys starting that some of us had to go to the bullpen.”
Allen didn’t need four pitches as a reliever, so he stuck with the fastball and curveball.
“I wanted to perfect my best two,” he said. “Every now and then I fool around with a cutter. I did it last year, but it wasn’t very good. I did it about two weeks and threw it in games in Columbus. But that’s a tough pitch to pick up in the middle of a season.”
Allen quickly learned about the team within the team that is the Tribe relief corps. One of the chores dumped on a rookie is to carry to the bullpen a backpack filled with allegedly healthy snacks. The backpacks are pink or purple and are meant for 8-year-olds to take to school.
“Vinnie (Pestano) is a very funny guy, a good guy to be around,” Allen said. “Guys want to be around him. The first day I was there, he said, ‘Congratulations. There’s the bullpen bag.’ I had the purple one and the Chewbacca pack.”