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April 7, 2013 at 10:08 AM

Mariners manager Eric Wedge on why he bunted in fifth inning yesterday

Mariners catcher Kelly Shoppach was asked to bunt in yesterday's fifth inning, but struck out with two on.

Mariners catcher Kelly Shoppach was asked to bunt in yesterday’s fifth inning, but struck out with two on.

Many of you have written in to me on Twitter asking why Mariners manager Eric Wedge opted to have catcher Kelly Shoppach bunt with two on and none out in yesterday’s fifth inning, but then opted not to pinch-hit for Raul Ibanez against a left-handed reliever with two on and one out in the sixth. A couple of you suggested there was an obvious contradiction between what appeared to be playing for one run in the fifth inning and then not doing so in the sixth under the guise that it was “too early” to be doing that.

Sounded like a fair question to me, so I asked Wedge about it in this morning’s media session.

First, what was his thought process behind having Shoppach bunt in the fifth inning of a 1-0 game, the Mariners still on top at that point?

“It’s a combination of things,” Wedge said. “One, you evaluate the inning. Do you want to go for the big inning, or do you want to try to play for maybe one run or a couple of runs? So, with where we were in the order with that matchup, kind of feeling the way the game was, which ended up being the way it ended up, I felt it was importnat for us to get a run or two right there. And that’s why we did it. And that’s something that Kelly (Shoppach) has done before. It’s actually something he can do well. And there will be other times, as you’ve seen, where we’ll let him swing away and see if we can put a bigger inning together. But I didn’t think it was going to be that type of game yesterday. I felt like it was going to be the type of game it ended up being.”

Rather than an 8-7 shootout like the night before, yesterday’s 4-3 contest was one in which every run was at a premium for the most part. The White Sox pulled away a bit in the sixth and seventh, taking a 4-1 lead, but then Michael Saunders homered to make it a one-run contest in the eighth. That eighth inning saw the Mariners use Jason Bay as a pinch-runner, then the ninth inning had Franklin Gutierrez and Jesus Montero pinch-hit.

The Bay option to run for Kendrys Morales would not have been available had he pinch-hit for Ibanez in the sixth.

On that decision, I asked Wedge again, why play for a run in a 1-0 game in the fifth, but not do so in a 1-1 game in the sixth by going with the better right-handed matchup versus lefty pitcher Donnie Veal? Was there a change in how he viewed the game’s potential outcome?

“No, no, not at all,” he said. “Because in that situation there, it’s actually the exact opposite. The consistency is still there because, again, you know what type of game you’re in, but with Raul (Ibanez), particularly this early in the year, or maybe Jason Bay or (Robert) Andino or whoever it may be, you want to give them additional opportunities to do stuff early on. What you don’t want is guys looing over their shoulder when they go to home plate.”

That’s kind of what I mentioned on the blog yesterday, and how Wedge and other managers do have to factor in the whole “trust” equation with players and not risk alienationg them and factions of the clubhouse early on by pulling guys from games too early, this early. You don’t have to agree with it, but there are a whole bunch of considerations that go into every equation when it comes to managing human beings instead of robots. We already saw a couple of managers lose their Mariners clubhouses over the past six or seven years because of all sorts of factors that have nothing to do with the type of baseball move you or I might make on, say, a video game.

The things I mentioned yesterday about getting relief pitchers up throwing in the bullpen and then not using them is one thing that can sink many a manager inside his own clubhouse when the average fan might not think twice about it. The “trust” factor with players knowing they won’t be yanked at the first sign of trouble is another one.

Wedge agreed that the sixth inning is probably the toughest one in which to make that kind of pinch-hitting decision because it’s right on the line between being early and late in a game.

“It’s basically the hump inning, so to speak, to get you into that latter part of the ballgame,” he said. “Another thing that goes into it, too, is, again, you know who their closer is, you know who their set-up guy is and how they’re going to match up later on. What you don’t want to do is pull the trigger too early. Because then you’re locked in to somebody on the other side. We’ve still got a lot of game to play. It’s a tad early to do that. Not that you wouldn’t do it, again, in another game or a particular situation or another player. But you’re a little bit early there.”

So, there you have it.

Wedge is going with his more extreme-right-handed lineup today against tough White Sox left-hander Chris Sale. That means Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders are out and Andino and Bay are in as extra right-handed bats.

Screen Shot 2013-04-07 at 12.11.36 PM

Comments | More in strategy | Topics: kelly shoppach; raul ibanez; jason bay; eric wedge

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