McAllister impresses Francona, wins rotation spot
Righty will open season with big league club for first time in career
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Zach McAllister has been called into the manager's office during Spring Training a couple of times throughout his career. In previous years, it usually meant that the pitcher would be cleaning out his locker in the big league clubhouse and moving back to the Minor League side of the complex.
On Sunday morning, McAllister had a meeting with Indians manager Terry Francona.
"It's like getting called into the principal's office," McAllister said with a laugh. "You never really know."
This time it was different.
"Today was a good visit," McAllister said.
Francona informed McAllister that he will be a member of Cleveland's Opening Day rotation, most likely sliding into the fourth slot behind Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Brett Myers. Indians general manager Chris Antonetti has maintained all spring that McAllister had a leg up for one of two available jobs, but it is now official.
For the first time, McAllister will break camp with a Major League club. He immediately phoned his parents -- McAllister's dad, Steve, is a scout for the Arizona D-backs -- to deliver the good news. It is a moment that McAllister will never forget, but he was quick to note that he still has three weeks left in camp to prepare for the regular-season grind.
The last thing McAllister wants to do -- good news or not -- is become complacent.
"To me, I still have something to go out there and prove," McAllister said. "Even though they say I'm in the rotation, and I love hearing that, I still have the same mindset that I had before -- that's going out and getting outs and being productive."
It is that kind of attitude that has won over Francona.
Asked what he likes about McAllister, the manager did not hesitate.
"Everything," Francona said. "There's nothing we don't like. I'm being serious. He has a presence and he's got leadership qualities."
Antonetti and Francona have both praised McAllister's worth ethic and behind-the-scenes preparation; they expect he will lead by example in the clubhouse. Francona added that he feels McAllister will emerge as more of a vocal leader as he grows and gains baseball experience.
"He'll be a leader here in the not-too-distant future," Francona said. "I know you have to put your time in and do things, but if guys like him are paving the way, we're going to be in good shape."
McAllister, 25, was selected in the third round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft by the Yankees, who sent him to the Indians in August 2010 to complete a July trade for outfielder Austin Kearns. Over the past two seasons, McAllister has had a handful of stints with the Indians and has gone 17-5 with a 3.22 ERA in 36 starts with Triple-A Columbus.
Last year, the 6-foot-6 righty went 6-8 with a 4.24 ERA in 22 turns for Cleveland, which had the second-worst rotation ERA (5.25) in the American League in 2012. There were stretches in which McAllister, as a rookie, was Cleveland's most reliable arm. In his first 10 outings, for example, he went 4-2 with a 3.18 ERA.
"Every time I take the mound," McAllister said, "I want our team to know we have a very good chance to win no matter who it is [we're facing]."
There is still room for growth on the mound, though.
Down the stretch last season, as Cleveland faded as a team and McAllister's innings piled up, the right-hander went 2-6 with a 5.29 ERA over his last 12 starts. It was encouraging that he posted a 3.91 ERA over his final four starts. Part of the issue late in the year was inconsistency with McAllister's secondary pitches.
He set out to tackle that problem this spring.
"I've been pretty happy with it," said McAllister, who has a 4.09 ERA over 11 Cactus League innings this preseason. "I've been able to use everything the way that I would like, maybe pitch backwards at times, which I know I have to do to be successfull, not just rely on my fastball.
"But I know that my fastball is my main pitch. I'm going to use that and I'm going to, for the most part, win and lose with that."
Francona has been impressed by what he's seen from the pitcher this spring.
"I think there's a lot [to like]," Francona said. "[In Saturday's outing], he elevated, I think by design -- got some swings and misses. He can create an angle because of his height and his delivery. Changeup. Breaking ball. He's just got a lot of things going for him."
One of those things now is the knowledge that his spot on the staff is safe.
"It's exciting," McAllister said. "That was a goal of mine coming in this year, to be in the rotation. To be able to do that is very exciting for me."