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April 28, 2007 at 11:46 AM

Mariners relief

Yes, the team certainly has caused some relief for fans, winning four in a row to get themselves right in the thick of things in a pretty mediocre AL West so far. But hey, they’ve done a good job staying afloat while waiting for Felix Hernandez to get back. Have to take advantage of these games against the Royals. But I’m not sure I liked what I saw last night. Not to flog a really dead horse, but all of this messing around with J.J. Putz over multiple innings could really come back to hurt this team later on.
There were plenty of congratulations thrown Mike Hargrove’s way by his bullpen critics after he used his relievers outside their normal roles in that series finale in Oakland. Nice to see the critics try to give credit when something goes right for a guy, but I think they might have gone a little overboard in interpreting Hargrove’s willingness to cater to the “high leverage” crowd by looking at the situation rather than the inning.
Yes, Hargrove did use his set-up man, Chris Reitsma, in the sixth inning of that game. Why did he do it? Because the guy he wanted to use, Julio Mateo, hasn’t been getting the job done. And because the other guy he’d rather have used, Brandon Morrow, had his arm burned out by throwing 3 1/3 innings in Texas.
“Had Morrow been more rested, we probably would have gone to him instead of Reitsma,” Hargrove told me in Oakland just before I raced out to catch my flight home.
In other words, yes he used Reitsma in the sixth and seventh because he wanted to win the game. But no, he wasn’t trying to use some newfangled strategy based on the criticsm of him the previous week. He was doing it because he had no one else who could throw in multiple innings.
And, if you looked carefully, once all the praise and applause from the Oakland game died down, you’ll see that it almost didn’t work. Morrow nearly blew the game by allowing the first two batters on in the eighth after George Sherrill had to finish off the seventh. Morrow was one more base-hit away from forcing Putz to work two full innings. As it is, Morrow got a fielder’s choice grounder, forcing Putz to “only” have to get five outs.
The result now? You’ver got a closer who’s gassed, a set-up man (Reitsma) who’s gassed and another set-up man (Morrow) who is also gassed. And we’re on what? April 28? Let’s hope Putz didn’t do any damage to his arm. I shudder to think of what will happen today if Jeff Weaver has another three-and-out session.
Remember that chat we had back when the Twins were in town and Hargrove sent Mateo out there? We discussed the hazards of trying too hard to win the early-season battle at the expense of the war. Well, the Mariners just won a couple of battles in Oakland and against the Royals last night. Let’s hope the team isn’t forced to give some victories right back to the Royals this weekend and then against some winning teams starting next week.
There is a reason managers do not like to use their relief pitchers outside their stated roles on too many a consecutive occasion. It isn’t simply because they are dinosaurs unwilling to try new things. It’s because they’ve seen what can happen when you get a little too cute and creative with your bullpen. Pitchers are creatures of habit and routine. Mess with that at your own peril. Someone mentioned earlier that Putz’s pitch-count in Oakland was relatively low. That may be true, but it really isn’t the issue. When I spoke to Putz after the game, he told me “the hardest thing is the sitting down (between innings). Because you’re so used to coming in and just letting it rip for one inning. Then you have to do that once and sit down, then today they had a pitching change which makes the inning go a little longer.
“That’s probably the hardest thing. Your body’s not used to that sitting and then getting right back up again.”
Apparently not, judging by the velocity of Putz’s pitches against the Royals in last night’s ninth inning.
Some of you have joked with me that I talk too much about the Blue Jays team I used to cover. All I’ll say then, on this topic, is check out how many times Toronto manager John Gibbons used B.J. Ryan in multiple-inning save ops in the first half of 2006 until just after the all-star break. Then, check out what happened to Ryan starting about the end of July, early August. Next, check out what Toronto’s $47-million closer is doing right now. Then, we’ll talk about the value of treating each game like the seventh game of a World Series in late-April.
One of you asked how George Sherrill has done against righties in his streak of retiring 15 hitters in a row. Well, the answer is they are 0-for-6 off him during the streak. Sherrill’s last and only hit given up all year was a single to left by switch-hitter Nick Swisher (batting righthanded) of the A’s. After that, Sherril retired righties Marco Scutaro, Jason Kendall and Mark Ellis. He later retired Mike Redmond and Michael Cuddyer of the Twins, then Maicer Izturis, another switch-hitting righty, of the Angels.
No, I would not start using Sherrill in multiple innings just because of that. Maybe once in a while, for emergency purposes. But you have to keep him healthy and strong. One inning max, which is pretty much the way the Mariners view him now. Once again, I do not think this is the byproduct of an overly conservative manager. I think it is the result of a manager who knows if he goes to the well once too often, casting relievers outside their roles, he’ll wind up in the jam he’s now faced with. Good luck to him and the bullpen tonight.



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