Brad Allen knows the Lansing Lugnuts’ schedule well enough to know South Bend appears on it nine more times in 2014.
He knows himself much better, meaning a potential start against the SilverHawks down the stretch of the Midwest League season won’t cloud or consume the right-hander from Geneva.
“You always want to prove people wrong, and that’s kind of what my career has been based on,” Allen said. “But it’s not just that; you want to prove the people on your side right.”
Allen made 20 appearances and 18 starts for South Bend in 2013 after the parent Arizona Diamondbacks signed him out of the independent Frontier League the previous winter. The best of those outings came Aug. 10, when he retired the final 25 West Michigan batters in a no-hitter.
Allen started four more games for the SilverHawks to open this season – going 3-0 with a 4.64 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 211/3 innings – before finding his loyalty tested. The Diamondbacks, with many of their organizational brass on hand, cut Allen in late April.
Several Arizona scouts called to express a combination of support and disbelief. They told Allen they wanted him to keep throwing, and backed up that chatter behind the scenes.
The Toronto Blue Jays organization acquired Allen’s contract in mid-May after he had made one start with his former independent team, the Florence (Kentucky) Freedom. When Blue Jays farm director Charlie Wilson called Allen to welcome him aboard, he assured he came highly recommended by every Diamondbacks official he spoke with.
“They kind of put the good word out for me and made sure everybody knew that I was available,” Allen said.
His status changed to inactive after just two starts with Lansing. On May 29, Great Lakes leadoff man Jesmuel Valentin slapped a one-hop comebacker at Allen to open the game. The ball caught his throwing hand, and although Allen remained on the mound, he found out afterward he had a hairline fracture on his thumb.
Two runs, four hits, two walks, five strikeouts, six innings. And one head-shaking trip to the disabled list.
If there was a silver lining, it was that the Blue Jays allowed him to rehab with the Lugnuts instead of heading to the club’s spring training complex in Dunedin, Florida. Allen observed the rest of the staff while still working alongside Lansing pitching coach Vince Horsman, a former Major League left-hander for parts of five seasons.
After five innings of two-run, seven-strikeout ball Sunday at Bowling Green, Allen was 0-2 with a 3.60 ERA in six starts for Lansing. He has struck out 27 and walked nine in 25 innings.
“Didn’t pitch bad,” he said of Sunday’s start, “but you’re not as crisp as you want to be in the middle of your season facing hitters who are in the middle of their season.”
Allen’s father, Brian, isn’t fazed either way, having missed only a few of his son’s 30 professional starts. Allen finished 2013 with Arizona’s Advanced-A affiliate in Visalia, California, going 1-1 with a 7.94 ERA in 111/3 innings.
The Cougars travel to Lansing for a three-game series today through Friday. It’s possible, but unlikely, Allen could start the finale against the team from his home city. He’d be pitching on usual five days’ rest, but with an off day Tuesday, he would have to skip ahead of a teammate in the rotation.
In any event, this marks the second time in as many summers Allen has seen the Cougars as the road team. Kane County visited South Bend in 2013, and Western and Eastern Division clubs only meet three times a season, alternating sites.
“I have a bunch of friends and family who always ask me if I’m going to be going through [Kane County] and I just haven’t, which is unfortunate,” Allen said.
He chalks it up to “just the way the schedule works out” much as he dismisses his departure from the Diamondbacks as “just kind of the business.”
Should Allen match up against his former teammates next month, he’ll keep a similarly even keel.
His dad, after all, plans to visit Fifth Third Bank Ballpark for some part of next week’s Cougars-South Bend series, as Allen still keeps in touch with the SilverHawks.
“All my buddies back there are pulling for me and I’m pulling for them,” Allen said. “It’s friendly competition, for sure.”