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Countdown to Opening Day – 34
Any questions about whether or not Zach McAllister would return to the Cleveland Indians for the 2017 season were answered in early January when he and the club agreed to a one-year, $1.825 million contract to avoid arbitration eligibility for the second consecutive year.
The Indians tinkered with their bullpen this offseason, starting by not extending an offer to Jeff Manship, who had joined McAllister and others in the middle of a Tribe bullpen that went from questionable to exceptional with the midseason addition of All-Star left-hander Andrew Miller from New York.
For McAllister, his retention by the club was another vote of confidence from the organization that he has spent parts of the last seven seasons playing for.
McAllister was acquired in 2010, the player to be named in a late July move with the Yankees that sent outfielder Austin Kearns to the Big Apple. He made his debut in July of the following season and played sparingly, but has become a regular contributor to the roster over each of the last five seasons.
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The biggest change in McAllister’s career trajectory came during the 2014 season, when the club got away from utilizing him as a member of the starting rotation. He missed time in the first half with a lower back strain and was optioned to Columbus in June. He rejoined the club in July but, with a 3-6 record, a 5.91 ERA, and a 1.52 WHIP at the trade deadline that season, he was designated for assignment and optioned to Columbus. He returned to Cleveland at the end of the month and worked almost solely as a reliever upon his return.
His first outing in 2015 came as a starter, but he was tagged for five runs on 13 hits in four innings and worked from the bullpen for the rest of the season. His numbers in relief showed some promise – he struck out 79 batters in 65 innings of work (10.9 K/9) with a 4-3 record, one save, a 2.49 ERA, and a 1.22 WHIP. His lack of an effective and deep pitch arsenal led to the belief that his best pitches could make him a quality reliever, and some of his career numbers seemed to indicate that the more times a batter saw him in a game, the worse the results would be for McAllister on the mound and on the scoreboard. Throughout his starting pitching career, batters have hit .222 against him the first time through, .297 the second, .324 the third, and .444 in ten total plate appearances the fourth time through. Those numbers are similar as a reliever, as he has allowed a .240 average the first time against a batter in a game and a .400 mark in limited numbers a second time through.
Statistically, his numbers took a hit last season. His ERA, WHIP, and walks were up, while his appearances, innings pitched, and strikeouts were all down. The numbers, however, could be a bit misleading.
Seven of the 20 earned runs he allowed on the season came in back-to-back appearances on July 2 and July 6 (a span of an inning and a third), jumping his season ERA from a respectable 3.20 to an ugly 5.40. The latter outing would be his last before making a trip to the 15-day disabled list with right hip discomfort.
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A different McAllister returned, leading to some credence that the hip injury was causing his issues on the mound. In his three July appearances alone before the DL stint, he allowed seven runs on four hits, five walks, and one hit batter in two and one-third innings. From his first appearance back on July 31 through the rest of the regular season (a span of 23 games and 25 2/3 innings), McAllister posted a 1.40 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP. Just one of 12 inherited runners over that stretch (8.3%) came around to score, compared to 5-of-15 (33%) prior to his disabled list trip.
He was not too involved in the Indians postseason as the bullpen usage tended to revolve around Miller, Cody Allen, and Bryan Shaw. He worked in the fourth and fifth innings of Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, allowing a leadoff triple to ex-Indian Ezequiel Carrera, who would score on a groundout to tie the game. With the big bats in the order coming up, he was lifted and did not appear in the rest of the series.
The triple got him again in Game 2 of the World Series against the Chicago Cubs. After striking out the only batter that he faced in the fourth, he came back out in the fifth and struck out Kris Bryant before walking Anthony Rizzo on a full count. Ben Zobrist tripled him in to extend the Cubs’ lead to three and manager Terry Francona went to Shaw again. Shaw allowed his inherited runner to score, giving McAllister both of his earned runs for that round of the postseason.
McAllister appeared again in Game 6, throwing an inning and one-third of scoreless relief, giving up back-to-back singles to start his second inning of work in the seventh before getting a fly out, a line out, and a force at third to escape harm with the Indians trailing by five.
The big right-hander worked in 53 games (two spot starts) in total in the 2016 regular season, posting a 3-2 record with a 3.44 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP. He added three innings of work in the postseason over three games with a 9.00 ERA and a 1.67 WHIP.
He is often labeled a two-pitch pitcher, relying heavily on a variety of fastballs and a curveball. The breaking stuff has been nowhere near as effective as it was in his first season in the Majors with an extensive workload in 2012, as opposing hitters have hit .379, .267, and .375 against it in each of the last three seasons. Last season, it was his second most frequently used pitch.
It was a tale of two halves for McAllister last year in the regular season, one in which he appeared to overcome his difficulties on the mound to give the club a reliable depth arm and an option for Francona to use to eat up the middle innings and multi-inning needs. He will be counted on again in 2017 to be the pitcher that he was in the second half of last season, when he proved his worth as a valuable righty in the Cleveland bullpen.
Other notable 34’s in Indians history: Ray Gardner (first to wear it in MLB in 1929), Odell Hale (1934-36), Lou Boudreau (1938), Dale Mitchell (1948-50), Sam McDowell (1963), Steve Hargan (1965-72), Jim Kern (1974-78), Joe Charboneau (1980-82), Brian Anderson (1996-97), Dave Burba (1998-2002), Cliff Lee (2003-04), Kevin Millwood (2005), Kerry Wood (2009-10), Corey Kluber (2011)
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