The Indians’ offensive struggles are a well-chronicled concern at this early stage of the 2021 season, particularly given what happened against Carlos Rodón. But now the club is wrestling with the new issue of an overburdened bullpen because of the succinct starts received from Zach Plesac and Logan Allen this week.
Just 48 hours after Plesac couldn’t get out of the first inning in Chicago, Allen couldn’t get an out in the third inning in Cincinnati. The result Friday night was a burned bullpen and a 10-3 loss to the Reds in the Ohio Cup’s opening act.
“This wasn’t on the hitters tonight,” Allen said. “This was me getting the team off on a bad start. I did not limit the bleeding. It doesn’t help the guys in the bullpen that are working their tail off trying to prevent runs.”
It sure didn’t look as though Allen would need a great deal of help early in this one. He needed just 26 pitches total to retire the sides in order in the first and second, and received a run of support via Amed Rosario’s first-inning solo shot. The results, though, concealed an issue manager Terry Francona detected with Allen’s approach.
“He didn’t have a real good fastball the first couple innings, and he didn’t give himself a chance to pitch into it,” Francona said. “He got changeup happy, and it just got away from him in a hurry.”
That happened in the third. Leadoff man Kyle Farmer reached on a José Ramírez fielding error, and Allen unraveled. Like Rodón in the would-be perfect game on Wednesday, Allen plunked a batter – Kyle Stephenson – with a literal backfoot slider. Then he uncorked a wild pitch on another slider to put two runners in scoring position.
A soft fly ball from Reds starter Jeff Hoffman began a run of three straight run-scoring singles, and, just like that, Allen was out of the game, and the Reds were up, 3-1.
On a night in which the Indians' offense would smack 12 balls with exit velocities of 100 mph or more with only three runs to show for it, there was some irony in Allen losing control on a bloop off the bat of the pitcher and a groundball single up the middle from Jesse Winker.
“It’s difficult, but that’s baseball,” Allen said. “If you don’t like it, pitch better. The bloop single wouldn’t have been a thing if I executed to Stephenson.”
This is all part of the maturation process for the 23-year-old Allen, who wowed Cleveland in Spring Training camp to win a rotation job but is still trying to find his rhythm in the season proper. Indians starters have struggled in the first inning so far, so Allen had a distinct mindset to avoid that bugaboo here.
Instead, it was the third that did him in.
“It is a good thing to have this adversity, because it makes you better,” Allen said. “I figured a lot of stuff out today early pregame. It’s just about having that happy balance.”
Francona’s quick hook of Allen -- born out of undue optimism that the Indians’ bats still had plenty to offer in a 3-1 game -- led to the Reds clobbering Phil Maton. Eugenio Suarez doubled home a pair and Joey Votto launched a two-run dinger to make it 7-1. The Indians never recovered.
Cleveland has the rookie Triston McKenzie taking the mound Saturday for his second start of the season. In the first, McKenzie was limited to four innings of work, after opening the year in the bullpen. While McKenzie should be stretched out a bit more for his second start, the club won’t exactly be riding him the way it did Shane Bieber in a nine-inning gem against the White Sox earlier this week. Hence, why a move or two may be in order in before Saturday’s rematch.
For now, add a currently overburdened bullpen to Cleveland’s established issue in the runs column.