The Cleveland Indians Manager Terry Francona demoted RHP John Axford from the closer role back on May 9th. At that point, Francona said that he was going to use a closer by committee strategy moving forward. He said that Axford’s removal from closer was a temporary action done in order to allow Axford to get out if his rut and back to pitching like a closer. The plan was to use any of four pitchers in the role depending on the game situation. Those four pitchers were said to be Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Mark Rzepcynski and Scott Atchison. Axford has been given the task of working on his delivery and focusing on his command. It has not been a smooth adjustment period but he has looked better in his last 3 appearances in which he went 3 1/3 innings while striking out 6 and surrendering zero walks. However, Francona has not used Axford since May 27th despite being forced to stretch his bullpen thin. It is evident that Francona does not trust Axford in key situations and a return to the closer role doesn’t seem to be coming anytime soon if at all.
The closer by committee approach has been mostly a one man committee. As a team the Indians have logged 6 saves since Axford’s removal. Bryan Shaw recorded one of those saves and Cody Allen has picked up the other 5 saves. Allen began the season primarily in an 8th inning or setup role. Allen has been lights out all year as his much improved curve ball has complimented his mid to high 90’s fast ball perfectly. When Allen is throwing his curve ball for strikes he has looked unhittable at times. Allen seems like the natural choice to fill the team’s closer role being that he is the most reliable arm in the bullpen.
Whether it be by design or opportunity, Francona has used Allen in the closer role in the last four save opportunities. Allen has been excellent in that role as he logged his 4th save in his last four appearances. Last night, he was called on to make the last 4 outs in a 5-3 tribe win over the defending world champion Boston Red Sox. He breezed through by dominating the heart of the Red Sox lineup. Allen has appeared in 25 2/3 innings this season and has an ERA of 2.81 and a WHIP of 1.25. He has 5 saves in 6 opportunities and has a 31K/11BB ratio. With Francona’s lack of any trust in Axford right now and Allen’s success in the closer role, one could ascertain that the role is Allen’s for the foreseeable future.
There is not much doubt that Allen can fill the closer’s role admirably. The problem is that notwithstanding the bullpen’s success there are only a few guys that Francona can call on in high stakes situations which is evident by the league leading number of appearances by Rzepcynski (31), Shaw (30) and Allen (30). The only other reliever that Francona calls on in the late innings of a close game is Atchison. The Indians signed Axford to a $4.5 million contract to fill the closer role for a reason. The Indians are best served with Allen in a set-up role. Having Allen available to call on late in games when the opposition is threatening is where he is best used. With Allen being saved for the 9th inning the job of shutting down potential rallies falls almost solely on Shaw. Shaw has been excellent when called on but has been admittedly overworked. In fact, Shaw was unavailable last night after appearing in three straight games which is why the Indians were forced to use just recalled from AAA Columbus Nick Hagadone with the game on the line. Hagadone pitched well and helped keep the game tied but he is certainly not a long term solution this year. Cody Allen could probably be one of the elite closers in the league but he is more valuable to this team as a guy who can strand runners and hold a lead when the opposition presents an imminent threat of scoring. He is a great option for the time being but it would more advantageous for the Indians could they somehow fill the closer role with someone else.
By: Brad Ward
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