By the end of last season, the Cleveland Indians best starting pitcher may very well have been rookie right-hander Zach McAllister.
He had the best ERA and WHIP of any starting pitcher who made over 10 starts for the Tribe last season (4.24 ERA and 1.36 WHIP). He was better than Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, the two veterans who appear to have the top two spots in this year’s rotation.
Yet, right now he is in a battle with Scott Kazmir, Carlos Carrasco, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Trevor Bauer, and Corey Kluber for the fourth and fifth starting spots behind the two veterans and newcomer Brett Myers.
McAllister made his fourth appearance of the spring yesterday against the Cubs, throwing four shutout innings. He’s been very good in three of his four outings thus far, and looks like he is on his way to opening the season with the major league team.
He should have been a guy who had to pitch his way off the team in Arizona anyway.
The big righty (6’6″ 240 pounds), who was stolen from the Yankees in 2010 for the ashes that remained in Austin Kearns’ career, had only one poor statistic on his resume last year. He allowed 19 unearned runs in his 22 starts.
When his teammates didn’t support him defensively, he had a problem closing out the inning.
His hits to innings pitched ratio was pretty good (allowing 133 hits in 125-1/3 frames) and his strikeout to walk ratio (110/38) was excellent. He also pitched at least six innings in 14 of his 22 starts.
His solid work means the other five guys are probably looking at the one remaining spot to open the year in Cleveland. That’s a good problem to have for manager Terry Francona.
Kluber has struggled this spring and was probably a long shot to make the team coming into camp. Matsuzaka is on a minor league invite, and although his ERA (2.57) is good this spring, he has allowed a lot of hits and has pitched out of trouble in his appearances.
It would be a surprise if either come north with the team in April.
That leaves Kazmir, Carrasco, and Bauer for the last spot.
The front office would like to have Bauer start the season in Columbus to give him more AAA experience, since he’s only made 14 starts at that level. However, if the youngster currently ranked among the top 15 prospects in the game by Baseball America continues to pitch well, he could force his way to Cleveland.
That means it comes down to Carrasco, who is coming off of Tommy John surgery, and Kazmir, a southpaw who is trying to return from baseball’s scrapheap.
The former is facing a six game suspension for a hitting a Royals hitter in one of his last starts in 2011, and coupled with the return from a major arm operation, Francona and GM Chris Antonetti may opt to start the young righty at Columbus to get his bearings at the minor league level rather than facing big league hitters.
That means Kazmir has a leg up if he continues to pitch well. Reportedly, his velocity is in the low 90 mph range at this point, and the Tribe may want to see if they can cash in on their low risk gamble early in the season, knowing they have Carrasco and Bauer just two hours away in reserve.
The key is how both Carrasco and Kazmir pitch from here on out in Arizona.
Carrasco goes today. At this point in spring training, every performance by either guy is huge. Ultimately, those two will make the decision for Francona.
The ball is in their hands, literally.