Reds pitching prospect James Allen has done a little bit of everything in his baseball career.
He hit .448 while leading Francis Howell High School to conference and district championships in his senior year. Then at Kansas State he blossomed into one of the top closers in the Big 12, recording 31 saves in three seasons.
Now in his second year of pro ball, he's excelling as a starting pitcher. The key, he says, is a new conditioning program.
Allen allowed one hit over seven innings as the Class A Dayton Dragons beat the Great Lakes Loons, 3-2, on Thursday evening.
"The running is a lot different," he said. "I have to prepare to get my body to go multiple innings now. My pitching coach [Major League veteran Tom Browning] and strength coach [Brad Hyde] extended my running because they could see I was getting tired.
"The start after that I went seven innings [against Clinton on Friday]. It's made me feel better and my endurance is up."
The new conditioning program sees Allen lift weights and run for 40 minutes the day after a start. Then he runs foul pole to foul pole 15 times on Day 2, and he runs from the foul pole to the batter's eye 12 times on the third day. On Day 4, he runs eight 60-yard sprints.
On Thursday, this new regimen paid off. The 6-foot-1 right-hander retired the first 14 batters he faced before Pratt Maynard drew a two-out walk in the fifth frame.
Leading off the sixth, Pedro Guerrero broke up the no-hit bid with a line drive to left field. But Allen induced a ground ball from Jesus Arredondo and he retired Darnell Sweeney to escape unharmed.
"The guy is a good hitter," Allen said of Guerrero. "I threw an outside fastball to get ahead in the count, 0-1. Then [I threw] a slider that he checked his swing on, then another slider down and away for a ball for 1-2.
"I came in with a fastball, but he lined it to the outfield. It was a good pitch, but sometimes you have to tip your hat."
Allen finished up his night by working a 1-2-3 seventh inning before turning things over to the bullpen.
"My two-seam fastball had some sink to it and it was working well. I was able to command it pretty good," he said. "The first couple times through the order, I was throwing mostly my fastball and then mixing in my off-speed pitches."
Allen also relied on his slider -- his go-to pitch as a closer in college -- and incorporated his changeup, which he has only thrown since instructs last year.
The outing lowered the Missouri native's ERA to 3.43 through 27 Midwest League appearances, including five starts.
Drafted by the Reds in the seventh round of the 2011 Draft out of Kansas State University, Allen had worked exclusively out of the bullpen until earlier this month.
He went 2-0 with a 1.26 ERA and seven saves in 22 relief appearances for the Rookie-level Billings Mustangs last year, and his first 22 games of '12 all came out of the 'pen.
Allen made his first pro start in Bowling Green on July 3-- a 5-1 loss in which he allowed three runs), and his next four outings were on regular rest out of the rotation.
In 78 2/3 innings, he has struck out 62 and walked 25 batters.
"You just have to go with your gut on pitches," Allen said. "If you really want to throw a pitch and you know you can throw it with conviction, shake off your catcher.
"If you keep your work ethic and work as hard as you can between outings, everything will fall into place."
On Thursday, Michael Dennhardt worked around one hit in the eighth, and Carlos Contreras picked up his 11th save despite allowing a pair of ninth-inning runs.
Great Lakes starter Duke von Schamann (2-1) took the hard-luck loss. He surrendered a lone run on four hits and a walk over eight innings.