'Setting the standard': Allen records 8 K's in debut

April 23rd, 2023

CLEVELAND -- There are so many factors that go into a pitcher making his Major League debut. A player has to adjust to bigger crowds, a third deck in the ballpark and, well, getting big league hitters out.

The Guardians wanted to keep the plan of attack simple for . Here’s how assistant general manager James Harris put it: Who’s leading off for Miami? Jon Berti? Just go get Berti out and then we’ll see what happens from there.

Allen did just that.

The 24-year-old left-hander struck out the first batter he faced in the big leagues, setting the tone for a stellar Major League debut. He gave up just one run on a solo homer in six innings with eight strikeouts in Cleveland’s 7-4 victory over Miami on Sunday afternoon at Progressive Field. 

“Just getting the first out in any inning is big, but especially for the first time,” Allen said. “It was nice I was able to get the ball early. It was all around a great day, for sure.”

Allen, the organization’s No. 8 prospect, is on a short list of Cleveland hurlers who recorded at least eight strikeouts in their first Major League start, joining Luis Tiant (11 strikeouts in 1964), Triston McKenzie (10, 2020), Herb Score (nine, 1955), Fred Blanding (eight, 1910) and Floyd Weaver (eight, 1962).

“We were itching for him to get that first strikeout, and he does it right away,” Guardians designated hitter  said. “Then you look up, and he’s gone six strong. Couldn’t ask for much more.”

Allen came as advertised. In three starts with Triple-A Columbus this year, he owned a 1.26 ERA with a 34.5% strikeout rate, an 8.6% walk rate and a 57.6% ground-ball rate. On Sunday, one-third of the batters he faced were retired via strikeout. One-fourth grounded out.

“I said [before his start], his first five, six innings aren’t going to define who he is,” manager Terry Francona said. “It kind of gives our guys in the clubhouse a boost. He had poise. He threw three pitches. He attacked. He did really well.”

Allen relied mostly on his four-seamer (which averaged 92 mph) and his splitter. Of his 86 pitches, he threw just nine sweepers -- the offering that’s led to so much success in the Minors this year.

“His split was really good, and he threw that fastball at the top of the zone,” Marlins manager Skip Schumaker said. “He threw strikes and worked quick. Really impressive debut for the young guy.”

The Guardians have a handful of prospects they considered to make Sunday’s start, including both Tanner Bibee and Gavin Williams (although the team would prefer a pitcher see some time in Triple-A before jumping to the big leagues). Bibee took until his third Triple-A start to permit a run this season. Williams held opponents hitless through five innings last time out. So why was Allen the clear choice for Cleveland? Because he’s experienced adversity.

The Guardians aren’t wishing their young starters more obstacles than necessary, but the fact that Allen was promoted to Columbus last year and struggled (6.49 ERA in 14 starts) but came into ‘23 ready to be better proved a lot to the organization.

“The main difference is the velo is up a couple of miles an hour,” Harris said. “He came in intentionally trying to change that in the offseason. He wanted to get more flexible, he wanted to be healthy, he wanted to throw the ball harder. He came in and did all of it.”

Because of that work, Allen’s Sunday afternoon ended with a beer shower in the Guardians’ clubhouse. He was able to meet his mom, dad, brother, girlfriend and agent on the field after his dream of making his Major League debut came true. Now, he’s hoping this is just the beginning.

Francona said on Friday that this could be the beginning of the next wave of young talent that comes up to impact the big league club. One start won’t answer whether that theory is true, but Allen certainly earned another start. And for a rotation that’s battled injuries, this could be key in Cleveland’s success this season.

“[] led the way,” Bell said. “[Allen] following, they’re definitely setting the standard for guys getting the phone call in Triple-A. So, hopefully we got more coming.”