In a tumultuous sports weekend for Cleveland fans, one rookie left-hander was able to provide a ray of hope. Yes, the Cavaliers find themselves on themselves on the brink of elimination and the Guardians were battered and swept by a combined score of 9-3 in Saturday’s doubleheader, but the Guardians were at least able to salvage a W in Sunday’s series finale against the Miami Marlins.
And they did it in large part due to the strong debut performance of rookie starter Logan Allen. Allen pitched six innings in the effort allowing just one run on five hits and a walk. He was also able to set down a Guardians’ season-high eight Marlins on strikes in the outing. That’s right. No Guardians starter, including ace Shane Bieber had struck out more than seven batters in a game until Allen on Sunday.
Logan T. Allen (Sunday’s starter) is not to be confused with Logan S. Allen, oddly enough another left-handed pitcher that was in the Guardians system and wasn’t very good (5.45 ERA in 69 1/3 IP) in limited Major League action between 2020 and 2022. The latter now pitches in the Rockies organization.
The former was the Indians’ second-round pick in 2020 as he was taken 56th overall in that year’s draft. He hit the ground running as a pro, holding an organization-best 2.26 ERA as a starter at AA Akron in 2021. Despite that early success, Allen is slightly overshadowed by a bevy of other Cleveland pitching prospects like Tanner Bibee, Gavin Williams and the perpetually-in-a-state-of-injury-setbacks former first-rounder Daniel Espino. The evident reason for his dismissal in favor of his fellow farm hands is that his fastball doesn’t play as big as them, checking in at 92-94 mph. This seems to be the crux of why prospect evaluators are all over the board in their opinions of Allen. ESPN has Allen as the Guardians 3rd best prospect overall- suited to possibly be a number 2 starter- while The Athletic has him at 14th -suited for the bullpen at best. To his credit, Allen spotted that heater well on Sunday, showing excellent command. Score one for ESPN.
More notable is Allen’s split-change, which most scouts call his best pitch due to excellent break. He gets good drop on the pitch consistently and can get significant lateral movement either direction at times, which makes the offering devastating. Knowing that an effective third pitch is crucial to a Major League career as a starter, Allen has also been working on a slider that has progressively improved in his time in the minors, though he threw it very sparingly on Sunday.
Not all has been rosy for the young lefty though. Most of Allen’s struggles in the minors in 2022 came from two places: the tweaking of the slider in live game situations and a tendency to nibble the corners and not trust his command. The way he pulverized the strike zone on Sunday- allowing only one walk and throwing 60 strikes in 86 pitches- is a very positive sign. Quite frankly, it would have been very difficult for his outing to have gone much better.
Naturally, one outing won’t be a magic elixir, but there is hope that with Allen’s ascension to the big leagues and a quality outing behind him that he may provide some stability to a starting rotation that has been searching for answers. In this early season, the Cleveland pitching factory malfunctioned. Guardians starters have pitched to a 4.45 ERA so far, 16th best in baseball, while their expected FIP is 25th best at 4.76, suggesting that they have actually gotten lucky with their results thus far.
Much of the turmoil originates from injuries (and an awful first week of the season that saw both Cal Quantrill and Zach Plesac really struggle). Number two starter Triston McKenzie has yet to throw a pitch this season and will not likely pitch until very late May at the soonest. The Guardians turned to youngster Hunter Gaddis, who had an excellent spring that had secured his spot on the Opening Day roster (he made the team even before McKenzie’s injury). Disappointingly, Gaddis has been dreadful in the starting rotation and was sent down to the minors this week before rain-induced double-headers had him return to Cleveland as the extra man for Saturday (where he pitched adequately out of the bullpen).
Adding another complication, Aaron Civale looked capable in his two starts before ending up on the shelf himself, leaving another hole in the rotation. Peyton Battenfield was promoted to the Majors last week and competed admirably against the Yankees, pitching 4 2/3 innings and allowing just one earned run in Civale’s stead. He followed that up with a six-inning, one-run performance against the Tigers this week. Battenfield’s promotion and results really could be looked at as the forebearer to Allen’s success on Sunday as two Guardians’ lefty rookies have made their Major League debuts and done well to impress in the rotation.
With Battenfield now having repeated his success, albeit against a much lesser team in Detroit and Allen also in the fold, the Guardians could have the materials to get the pitching factory pumping again. They at least seem better positioned to weather this injury bug. While 2022 saw the Guardians support the youngest roster in baseball, much of that youth movement was on the position player’s side of the roster. 2023 could be the year that the youth movement comes to the center of the diamond.