After two losses taken by John Axford in a row on the fourth and fifth of May, Terry Francona announced that he would be removed from the closer’s role and replaced by a unit that included Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Scott Atchison and Marc Rzepczynski depending on the situation. Since then, 11 pitchers have made 133 appearances over 95 innings in relief. It that span, Indians relievers have gathered 17 holds and 11 saves, the distribution of the latter being the focus of discussion.
In the first game after removal, Rzepczynski and Atchison were used in the late innings while Bryan Shaw getting the save. This was to be expected as even now he holds an impressive 2.38 ERA in 35 games, the second most in the AL to his teammate, Rzepczynski. Shaw allowed a double and an unearned run that appearance, but things ended well with the Indians completing the two run win. Shaw was called upon the next night as well, but wasn’t so lucky. This time, he came in and allowed two inherited runners to score on two singles, blowing the save. The Indians did come back, however and John Axford was the go to man who got the win. Axford was given another chance the next day with a four run lead going into the ninth, but allowed four base runners and a run while retiring just two. Cody Allen was the man for the one out save this time. Axford would not get another chance in a close game until June 14th against Boston. After a great June (1.29 ERA, 9K in 7 IP), a depleted bullpen gave him a chance and he earned the win.
After the save against Tampa Bay, Francona stuck with using the best pitcher for the situation for another couple games. Shaw got the save, working a perfect ninth while Allen and Zep earned holds despite ugly innings. This would be the last save by a pitcher other than Allen, although others have been given shots. Allen actually blew his next attempt, giving up a solo shot to tie the game against Detroit (the Indians came back and Atchison got the win), but he hasn’t blown one since. After the blown save on May 19th, Allen converted six consecutive saves and won a game as well (Carlos Carrasco is the only other pitcher to record a save and it was a multiple inning affair). Since changing the primary closer from Shaw to Allen, four other relievers have blown saves, Atchison twice, Shaw and Josh Outman.
Allen’s most impressive stretch was the first week of June against Colorado and Boston. Facing these explosively offensive teams, Allen recorded four saves in five games, allowing just a single base runner on a walk across them all. He threw 4.1 innings and struck out four, retiring the batter he walked on a double play. During that stretch and since, he has proven he is mentally ready to be closer, something he was physically ready for a year ago. Allen is not a one pitch pitcher or a pitch to contact, fly ball inducing reliever. He has a great fast ball and an even better curve, relying on movement as much as difference in speed to retire hitters.
When this “Closer by Committee” was started, the intent was to get Axford back into the role as soon as possible and not to raise one player up just to drop him back down a few weeks later. Now, Axford is pitching better than ever in a low stress role and Allen has forced himself into save situations. Prior to this season, Allen was largely considered the closer of the future, but possibly to immature at just 25 years old to handle to role. Because of this uncertainty, Axford was signed, but only to a one year deal, with the expectation that Allen would take over in 2015. The time table has moved up and Allen is great now and it would be folly to replace him with the 31 year old Axford. In fact, the bullpen has fallen into place extremely well and it would be a shame to change things around at all. Soon, we will see this Committee charade fall apart and Cody Allen will be officially named the Indians once and future closer.