ST. PETERSBURG -- It would be easy for Indians manager Terry Francona to simply declare setup man Cody Allen the team's new closer. John Axford is being given a break from that role for now, and the hard-throwing Allen seems like the obvious replacement.
Francona believes Allen is too important to pigeonhole into a specific inning.
"He influences games. He's a pretty big weapon," Francona said on Saturday. "That's a strength and I don't want to get away from that."
Prior to Saturday's game with the Rays, Francona met with Allen, Scott Atchison, Marc Rzepczynski and Bryan Shaw as a group, informing them that they are all options for the ninth inning while Axford is not closing. That foursome has worked mostly in the seventh and eighth innings to this point, solidying the back end of the Tribe's bullpen.
Allen, specifically, has been a force for the Indians, turning in a 1.84 ERA with 22 strikeouts against five walks in 14 2/3 innings, entering Saturday. The right-hander had allowed just one of 13 inherited runners to score for an eight-percent strand rate, which was tied for second in the Majors among relievers with at least 10 inherited runners.
During Friday's 6-3 win over Tampa Bay, Axford exited following a 31-pitch disaster that left the bases loaded with two outs. Allen entered and forced James Loney to fly out to right field to escape unscathed.
"There's days when you get to the seventh inning and the bases loaded," Francona said. "Cody might be the best guy to get us out of that inning. The game is maybe more on the line then than it is in the ninth, and they all understood that. I just wanted to make sure they understood. I feel pretty strong about how I feel, but I just wanted to make sure they understood."
As a rookie last season, the 25-year-old Allen turned in a 2.43 ERA with 88 strikeouts and 26 walks in 77 appearances (70 1/3 innings).
"Cody can close," Francona said. "He can do whatever he wants. But [it would be bad] having that weapon not available [in the seventh or eighth inning]."