GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Angels have a new closer in Cody Allen and there isn't any manager in baseball who knows him better than Indians skipper Terry Francona.
Francona, speaking at the annual Cactus League Media Day at the Glendale Civic Center on Tuesday, had nothing but praise for Allen, who pitched with Cleveland from 2012-18 before signing with the Angels on a one-year deal worth $8.5 million this offseason.
"You're getting one of the best competitors out there," Francona said. "You're getting a guy who will take the ball every day and never refuses to take the ball. I love him. I'll pull for him. The only time I won't is when we're playing the Angels."
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Francona was Allen's manager for six seasons, seeing him develop from a top setup reliever as a rookie in '13 to becoming Cleveland's closer for five years. Over that stretch as closer, Allen posted a combined 3.03 ERA with 449 strikeouts, 132 walks and 37 homers in 341 1/3 innings while averaging 29 saves per year.
But Allen never posted an ERA above 3.00 under Francona until last season, when Allen had a 4.70 ERA with 80 strikeouts, 33 walks and 11 homers allowed in 67 innings. Francona acknowledged that Allen's fastball velocity dipped -- his fastball averaged 94.3 mph in '17 but 93.5 mph in '18 -- but believes his struggles were more about locating his curveball.
"When he throws that first-pitch curveball for a strike he gets locked in, but last year he was spiking it," Francona said. "He's not the biggest guy in the world. But he's amazingly resilient. It's been six or seven years now of 70 appearances. That's pretty amazing. You don't see that too often."
Allen, 30, still possesses a great strikeout percentage, ranking in the 81st percentile in the Majors last year, but allowed too much hard contact. Opposing hitters had an average exit velocity of 89.5 mph against him, which was in the eighth percentile, per Statcast™. But Allen believes he can bounce back with a fresh start and is excited to work with pitching coach Doug White, who came over from the Astros and is noted for his use of analytics and video to help his pitchers.
"I just try to look at last year as a learning experience," Allen said. "It just didn't go well. It just kind of snowballed in the wrong direction for me. At certain points in my career earlier I had some bad stretches that I was able to right the ship. But last year I just wasn't able to. It's a fresh start, not just for me but for everybody. That's the beautiful thing about baseball. It's a clean slate. Everybody's numbers are the same right now."
• Right fielder Justin Upton, who is dealing with right knee tendinitis, is hitting off a tee and is expected to progress to soft toss soon, manager Brad Ausmus said. Upton will miss time in early in camp but will be ready for Opening Day.
• Right-hander Matt Harvey, who suffered a glute strain last week, is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Wednesday. He's been playing catch the last three days without issues and is ahead of schedule with the injury.
• Tuesday marked the most extensive day of live batting practice sessions, as Tyler Skaggs, Trevor Cahill, Griffin Canning, Dillon Peters, Jose Suarez and Williams Jerez each threw to hitters. The Angels have been having their pitchers throw to hitters without the use of an L-cage screen or a batting cage to make it feel more like a game situation. It also allows the Angels to use their Edgertronic and Rapsodo devices to record things such as hand placement, spin rates and pitch axis. Mike Trout and Albert Pujols were in the same hitting group, but only tracked pitches without swinging.