VanAllen is major part of first-place Senators’ relief corps

It is an extremely noteworthy accomplishment for the franchise to see five All-Star invites for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators. Even prior to the arrival of heralded No. 1 prospect Bryce Harper, the Senators were 13 games above .500 and cruising along in the western division of the Eastern League.

Harrisburg stands at 53-36 at the All-Star break, with a 5½-game lead over Richmond atop the division. The Senators begin the second half of the season with a seven-game homestand (and just a reminder that Harper and the Senators will be in Bowie, Md., taking on the Baysox from July 25-27).

“It has been nothing short of fun, (because) a very loose group of guys keeps it fun,” Senators pitcher Cory VanAllen said. “A big part of that is our manager, (Tony) Beasley. He allows us to do pretty much do what we want as long as we stay professional with everything.”

What also makes the Senators’ run stand out is young players , including prospects like Derek Norris, Brad Peacock, Patrick McCoy and Harper. A veteran with experience like VanAllen has noticed how quickly these players have come up to speed.

“Even the younger guys we have on the team, they act very mature for their age,” VanAllen said. “With Bryce getting here, he carries himself very well for how young he is. We just have to teach them the right way to play the game and respect it and still have fun.”

With this team playing so well, it wouldn’t be out of line to invite the entire staff to the All-Star game, since they have really been the backbone of this team.

One important part of the relief corps is Baylor University left-hander VanAllen, who is 3-1 with a 2.62 ERA in 29 games, with 46 strikeouts and 16 walks.

He has been especially stingy his last 10 outings, allowing just two earned runs with a 1.69 ERA, 19 strikeouts and only one free pass.

The 6-foot-3,180 lb., southpaw made the permanent move to the bullpen during the 2009 season after 63 games as a starter. This is VanAllen’s second full season out of the bullpen. He says this season has gone pretty well and he really appreciates having a fellow left-hander as a pitching coach in Randy Tomlin.

“It has been good for the most part,” VanAllen said. “There have been a couple of speed bumps along the way, but Randy Tomlin has done a great job handling a ton of pitchers that are in and out of here. It is even more of a treat for me because I am left-handed and Randy is left-handed, so we are able to relate a little better and he can communicate things with me better from a mechanical standpoint.”

VanAllen said he has started become more than just a one-hitter specialist and has started to stay in games for longer periods of time. He has completed at least one inning in eight of his last 10 outings.

“I started off being labeled a lefty situational guy,” VanAllen said. “Then, next thing I know, I am tossing three innings and facing mostly righties, which is great. I love the workload and I want to face righties, too.”

VanAllen said getting both lefties and righties out will help his longevity. He is getting lefties out at a 2.20 ERA and picking up numbers against right-handed hitters with a 3.02 ERA.

VanAllen said he loves the bigger challenge of facing both sides of the plate and it means a lot to him that the coaching staff has faith in his stuff to let him stay in and get those guys out.

He has been successful with his elusive fastball, mixing in a very good slider, changeup and curveball.

Tomlin said the Senators have been letting VanAllen stay in longer because, plain and simple, he needs the experience.

“It is mainly to help him learn how to pitch,” Tomlin said. “We want to give him long enough outings so he can face enough hitters to use all his pitches. He does have that great fastball. It is a matter for him to stay confident in throwing his offspeed pitches for strikes and then he has it easy, because he does have that good fastball.”

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