Indians’ Zach McAllister giving rotation’s bumpy start a much-needed bright spot

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By John Fanta
It’s safe to say that the Detroit Tigers had the Cleveland Indians’ number last season, boasting a 15-4 record in the 2013 season series and winning the AL Central. If the momentum is going to start turning toward the Indians’ side, it has to start somewhere. On a cold Wednesday in Detroit, it started with Cleveland’s middle man in the rotation.

Zach McAllister delivered six innings of one-run ball as the Wahoos bounced the Tigers, 3-2, at Comerica Park.

Where is McAllister’s early season momentum coming from? His manager says that the key is his heater. “He got back to where he’s throwing that fastball down, and it works for him,” Francona told the media. The 26-year old had an up-and-down 2013 that featured a right finger injury, which sat him out in most of June and July.

His woes were heavily present against Detroit last season, giving up 12 earned runs on 18 hits in 12 innings against the best offense in the league. While he did do that, “EZ Mac” managed to put together a 5-4 record after the All Star Break in 68.2 innings pitched. He isn’t doing anything over the top, but a 93-mile per-hour fastball and a curveball that drops below 80 have been keyed on where they are thrown.

It’s more than about what McAllister is throwing and where the ball’s going. The pressure also is not as high on him. After making over 20 starts in each of his past two seasons, the right-hander has solidified his role in the center of the rotation. He has also been able to do that because Cleveland’s having trouble still collecting all of its options in the rotation. Carlos Carrasco was supposed to be the fifth man, but a 0-2 record with a 7.84 ERA is causing concern.

McAllister is also becoming tougher to hit once he gets to the middle innings. Hitters went from a batting average around .200 for McAllister’s first 30 pitches to an average that is at .366 for pitches 41-60 in his outings in 2013. “Those middle innings of games are where it really did me a lot of damage last year,” said McAllister. He has now given up just one run in his last 13 2/3 innings of work.

Considering the Tigers rolled through the division last year, the tone had to be set by an Indians club that is off to a 7-7 start and is surrounded by question marks of whether they can reach the postseason. While McAllister has had his fair share of bumps in the road, there’s something to say about a win over Detroit in the first meeting of the season-long rivalry.

It would be wrong to say that experience doesn’t play a factor. McAllister threw in five September games last season, boasting a 2-1 record. He knows what critical baseball is like, and going six innings is all that the Tribe can ask for and more for a bullpen that is holding opposing hitters to a .199 batting average, fourth best in MLB.

Cleveland is among the worst in the amount of starters’ innings its staff is eating up, with 75.1 being the amount through 14 games. The rotation also holds an ERA over 5.00 thus far, which stands among the league’s worst five rotations. If McAllister had not gotten off to his hot start, it begs the question as to where the bullpen is getting a break outside of the three postponements the club has had.

Ahh yes, the one benefit of playing baseball in places like Cleveland and Detroit. With a week’s rest, McAllister exemplified that and fired a gem to give Tito’s Tribe a shot for a two-game sweep on Thursday when Danny Salazar meets Justin Verlander at Comerica. First pitch at 1:08 p.m.
For Tribe coverage, tweet @JohnFanta13 or e-mail him at john.fanta@student.shu.edu.

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