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May 8, 2012 at 11:24 PM

Ackley’s ninth-inning bunt attempt a hot topic of conversation

(Jesus Montero during his ninth-inning at-bat, which resulted in a foul out in the right-field corner. Photo by Associated Press).
There’s an interesting dichotomy between the frequent emails I get from readers frustrated with Eric Wedge’s refusal (in their eyes) to play “small ball” while decrying his infrequency of sacrifice bunts; with the outrage by another faction in some instances when he does call for the sacrifice.
On Monday, for instance, there were those who didn’t like the fact that Kyle Seager, with no outs, was asked to sacrifice the runner to third in the ninth after the Mariners had tied the game up. And others I heard from who said, “It’s about time.” That set up a matchup of left-handed-hitting John Jaso, a career .183 hitter against left-handers, against lefty Duane Below. It worked out, because Seager got the bunt down, and Jaso hit the sacrifice fly to right that ended the game with a 3-2 Mariners win.
Last night, Wedge faced another decision in the ninth, after the Mariners got the first two runners on base against Detroit closer Jose Valverde, trailing 6-4. He elected to ask Dustin Ackley to bunt, which didn’t sit well with this analyst and many others I saw on twitter. Ackley couldn’t get a bunt down on the first two pitches by Valverde, then struck out on the third. Rally dented, but not killed. They eventually loaded the bases with two outs, only to have Jesus Montero foul out to end the game.

Here’s what Wedge said about his decision: “It’s not automatic, but it depends on how the hitter’s swinging. In that situation, we’re looking to get Ichiro and potentially Montero at the plate. Eventually, they both got up there. (Brendan) Ryan had a couple of hits, he had seen Valverde eight times, had a couple of knocks off him in the past.
“We just weren’t able to finish it off. But we did everything to give us every opportunity to win that game. We were just one hit short, and even Jesus put up a heck of an at-bat there.”
And here’s Ackley, taking the blame for his inability to put the bunt down (he has yet to sacrifice in 121 major-league games): “That’s the momentum-killer. You have to move the guys over. With Brendan (Ryan) and Ichiro swinging well, you figure one was going to get a hit and tie it up. It was real frustrating not to move the guys over.”
Should Ackley have bunted? I wouldn’t have done it. I didn’t have a problem with Monday’s sacrifice, because I like the chances of getting at least a fly ball to win a game, even with the matchup issues involving Jaso. But down two, I hate to give up outs, particularly with the way Valverde had been struggling with his control while walking the first two hitters. And Ackley is supposed to be a cornerstone player on this team. I’d rather take my chances with him than the .165-hitting Ryan, even though he had two hits in the game.
I don’t think it’s the worst decision in the history of the world, mind you. Managers have been bunting in that situation since baseball began (though we have better data now on the inefficiency of such a strategy). Had Ackley been able to put the bunt down, maybe things would have turned out differently, but he didn’t.
The other topic from this game is Mariner starter Kevin Millwood. Once again, he had a lackluster effort,giving up five runs in the first two innings, which is pretty deadly against a pitcher like Justin Verlander. Millwood has started six games and is 0-4 with a 5.88 ERA. I’ve got to think that when Erasmo Ramirez stretches out at Tacoma, he is a candidate to take Millwood’s spot in the rotation.

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Jesus Montero


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