MESA, Ariz. -- Cody Allen knew it was coming. The young reliever had been worn out all morning by his Indians teammates and, with a small group of reporters waiting at his locker, Allen figured another round of teasing was coming again.
Fellow reliever Joe Smith, sitting at a table playing a card game with a few other players, smiled wide as he saw the scene unfolding on the other side of the clubhouse on Monday. Allen rolled his eyes as Smith leaned back in his chair and called out.
"Stay out of his way!" Smith yelled.
It was a good-natured poke at a compliment Tribe manager Terry Francona paid Allen following Sunday's game against the Dodgers. Allen had mowed through another three hitters en route to another scoreless Cactus League frame, continuing his strong spring bid for a spot in Cleveland's Opening Day bullpen.
Francona was asked for his thoughts on Allen's early showing.
"Stay out of his way," Francona said. "He's what you want. He's quick to the plate, he pounds the strike zone and he's got great stuff. You just pat him on the back and say, 'Way to go, kid.'"
A pat on the back from his manager. A poke in the ribs from his teammates.
Allen understands that it is all in good fun. He knows such jokes -- in baseball culture -- are a sign of respect. Allen's rise to the Major Leagues was meteoric, and the 24-year-old right-hander has shown up to camp on a mission to make sure the Majors is where he stays. He has come out firing this spring, putting him right in the thick of the race for the handful of bullpen vacancies.
True, it is only three exhibition appearances, but Allen's three spring innings have included just one hit allowed, no walks, no runs and four strikeouts. He has faced just nine batters. The one baserunner he allowed to reach, via a single, was subsequently erased with an inning-ending double play.
"I'd be lying to you to tell you that I was OK with being in Triple-A," Allen said. "Obviously, everybody wants to pitch at the big league level for a long time. That's what I want to do. So I did the same thing I did last offseason. I worked hard and tried to put myself in the best position to help the ballclub in any way."
If that means going back to Triple-A Columbus to start the season, Allen said he will swallow his pride and put in the work necessary to get back to bigs.
"We're here to win now," Allen said. "And I feel like whatever seven guys we have down in that bullpen, it's going to be a great bullpen. We have some great arms here."
Right, and Allen looks like one of the better options in camp.
"I would say he's game ready right now," Francona said. "He obviously knows he's coming into camp with something to prove. He looks like he's in midseason form."
A year ago, Allen was still in Minor League camp with Cleveland. He was invited to the big league side for a couple outings as an extra arm, but he was not within sniffing distance of the Major League bullpen. No, Allen was on his way to High A Carolina, staring down a development path that might have led to the bigs by 2013 or '14.
Allen was not having any of that.
He overpowered hitters and forced the Indians' hand at every stop, soaring through Carolina, Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus with a 1.87 ERA and 53 strikeouts over 43 1/3 combined Minor League innings. In July, Cleveland summoned Allen to the big leagues, making him the second player from the 2011 First-Year Player Draft to reach The Show.
Trevor Bauer -- now a teammate of Allen's with the Tribe -- was the first player from the '11 Draft to reach the Majors when he was called up to the D-backs in June. Bauer, who was the third overall pick in the first round by Arizona, is a slightly different case. Allen was taken by the Indians in the 23rd round, with the 698th overall selection.
Among the three fastest players to reach the Majors from each year's Draft class, Allen is a rarity. Carl Willis (23rd round in 1983) was the last player selected in the 23rd round or later to be one of the first three from his class.
"I wanted to beat him," said Allen, referring to Bauer. "Once I got to Triple-A, I wanted to be the first guy from my Draft class, but then he got called up."
Allen was not too far behind.
On July 20, Allen was standing on the mound in the fourth inning at Progressive Field, making his big league debut against the Orioles.
"My heart was beating out of my chest," Allen said. "Everybody wants to be comfortable out there, but to tell you I was comfortable that first outing would be a lie."
Allen walked the first two hitters he faced. Then, the righty settled in.
The pitcher equaled a team record by beginning his career with 12 straight scoreless appearances (13 2/3 innings). That streak was broken on Aug. 24, when Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher -- now Cleveland's first baseman -- stroked a two-run home run off the right-hander. Allen had held lefties to an 0-for-21 showing before that shot.
"We've got him on our team now," Allen said with a laugh. "That's a good thing."
In 27 games for Cleveland, Allen posted a 3.72 ERA with 27 strikeouts and 15 walks in 29 innings. The right-hander had his struggles (he posted a 7.04 ERA in his final 15 outings), and admits that he could have been better down the stretch, while he tried to balance life as a big league rookie with a team-wide tailspin in the second half.
Allen believes he is better for the experience now.
"That's going to be a focus of mine," Allen said, "to play the entire season focused, and continue to make adustments."
In the meantime, stay out of his way.