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April 19, 2007 at 10:35 PM

More on Mateo, Reitsma

I wasn’t planning to add to this tonight, but plenty of you are emailing in with the obvious question of why Mike Hargrove did not use Chris Reitsma in the seventh inning instead of Julio Mateo. Most of the emails are private ones, some are none-too-flattering, but that’s OK. I think it’s great that you all care so much about the team and baseball that you are still fuming at the keyboard four hours after the game ended.
As I wasn’t at the game, I can only speculate as to Hargrove’s reasons for not using Reitsma — who has been lights-out this season.
This reason seems the most logical to me. You shouldn’t really be using your primary set-up man, Reitsma, to only face one batter when the game is still in the seventh inning. A manager always has to be thinking ahead. If you know you’ve got a lefty hitter in league MVP Justin Morneau in the on-deck circle, then it makes sense that your best southpaw reliever, George Sherrill, is going to face him.
There’s no use saving Sherrill for the eighth inning, assuming Seattle would still have a lead, when the only lefty he’d potentially be facing is Jason Tyner. Not with the tying and go-ahead runs already on in the seventh and a hitter of Morneau’s caliber due up next. By the time the order rolled back around to lefty Joe Mauer and company in the ninth, you’d have J.J. Putz out there.
So, assuming Sherrill gets to face Morneau (whose career on-base-plus slugging percentage is roughly 150 points lower versus southpaws), who is the righthander you use for just one batter in Michael Cuddyer? It can’t be Reitsma. Not for just one guy. That’s a waste. Even if he does his job and Sherrill gets Morneau, who works the eighth? Putz isn’t going to go two innings, not this early coming off a spring elbow problem.
You’d then be left with a choice of Brandon Morrow, Mateo (I can hear the teeth gnashing now) or Sean Green. Not the most palatable option for eighth-inning set-up work. Morrow, I guess, would be the best call. If not, then why is he here? But that’s still not the option you truly want when Reitsma is available to notch three key outs.
Look, there’s a reason the Mariners brought Reitsma here and it isn’t to pitch to one batter in the seventh inning. He and Putz have yet to be in a position where they can work their true roles in a save situation and this was shaping up to be one of them. I’ve seen managers burn their bullpen out by doing foolish things, like wasting a three or four-out reliever on just one guy too early in a game.
Am I making sense here?
When the Mariners visited Toronto last July, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons did just that sort of thing by using set-up man Justin Speier an inning early and to record only two outs before a situational lefty bumped him from the game. In the end, though the Blue Jays made it through the inning, the Mariners wound up tying the game in the eighth against less-than-stellar late-inning types. The game, if you’ll remember, wound up going deep into extras before Toronto finally won — burning out what was left of a tired bullpen in the process.
There’s no way Reitsma was going to be allowed to face Cuddyer and then Morneau had he worked the seventh. Lefties hit .422 off Reitsma last season and have batted over .300 against him the past three years. So, to repeat myself, the righty being brought in was only going to face one guy as long as Seattle held the lead. You can assume Reitsma would generate a double-play and make the world a perfect place. But planning your bullpen use on the asumption of a double-play is a big leap.
Don’t forget, there’s no Felix Hernandez around for a while. The starters who will be pitching for the next few weeks are all mostly six-inning guys. The bullpen is going to be busy. You don’t want to start using five or six relievers in a situation like this that is tailor-made for four. It can come back to bite you in a big way on this coming road trip if the bullpen is gassed.
Bringing Morrow in with the bases loaded in that seventh would be just too risky for me, having seen him battle control problems thus far. Do you take your chances with Sean Green? Or go with the guy who has faced major league hitters the past two weeks and done a fairly good job of it? In this case, Hargrove went with the more proven guy and the move failed.
But burning Reitsma on just one batter, even if the Mariners did win this one game out of 162, is a move that would open Hargrove up to much bigger criticism down the road. As I mentioned previously, I’ve seen that kind of bullpen mismanagement before and it resulted in far more than just the loss of one game.
So, to me, it boiled down to Mateo, Morrow or Green. Reitsma can’t enter the equation. But that’s just me. Fire away!



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