GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The idea last year was to put Cody Allen on a gradual path toward being ready in time for Opening Day. The Indians closer worked in simulated environments, pitched in Minor League games and was careful with his throwing program between Cactus League appearances.
Allen has a different plan in mind for this spring.
"I want to get to where we're getting used to that competitive nature," Allen said, "and the day-to-day feeling of facing a hitter. I don't want it to be, 'OK, let's work on this today and this the next day.' Let's just face hitters and get guys out."
Allen will begin that process on Friday, when he is scheduled to make his Cactus League debut against the White Sox in Glendale, Ariz. The hard-throwing right-hander is tentatively slated to work the third inning after Trevor Bauer's two-inning start, giving the closer a chance to face some of Chicago's Major League batters.
The Indians wanted to be conservative with Allen last spring due to the heavy workload he has taken on in recent seasons for the Tribe. The reliever, while admitting that he did not report to last Spring Training in as good of shape as he has this year, felt the slower approach hurt his readiness for the regular season.
"We were looking to be ready right at the end of spring, Opening Day," Allen said. "Now, what we're trying to do is shoot for a little earlier. So, I'll have a little more mound time. Once we kind of get to where I feel consistent, say it's 10 days before we break camp or a week before we break camp, we can kind of dial it down. Or, we could use that time to just get those competitive reps in to be ready for Opening Day."
In 70 games last season, Allen turned in a 2.99 ERA with 99 strikeouts and 34 saves in 69 1/3 innings, posting a career-best 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings and a Major League-best 2.6 relief WAR, according to Fangraphs.com. It was a strong overall showing, but the bulk of Allen's success came after he stumbled out of the gates for Cleveland.
Allen turned in an 11.57 ERA in seven April innings, but then posted a 2.02 ERA from May through the end of the season.
"You're constantly trying to learn about your guys and what's in their best interest," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "We kind of felt like last spring, I think the program, the idea, was solid. But, knowing the way he pitches, it's hard for him to not go full boat. It just doesn't work."
Allen (three seasons) and Pirates closer Mark Melancon (four) are the only pitchers with active streaks of at least three straight seasons consisting of a minimum of 69 innings and 70 appearances. Over the 2013-15 campaigns, Allen ranked second in the Majors with 223 appearances and seventh overall in relief innings (209 1/3).
Even with that kind of volume, Allen prefers to pitch in more competitive situations in the preseason to better prepare for the year ahead.
Allen also noted that he spent this past winter concentrating on improving his physical condition, especially in terms of his lower-half mobility. The righty said he came to camp in great shape strength-wise a year ago, but he was stiff in his lower half and had to use Spring Training to gain back some of his flexibility. The mobility issues in turn hindered his ability to make mechanical adjustments from pitch to pitch early on last year.
"I've come into camp this year in a lot better spot," Allen said. "I came into camp last year not far off, but if you're a little bit off, it takes a little bit of time. And then, when you're trying to slow play it, that takes a little bit of time, too. A lot of little things added up to me almost being like a week late for being ready for the season."