(the following originally appeared on my blog here last night)
I don’t always watch the postgame show. Most of what I care about–manager and player quotes–are picked up on by the beat writers, but after a win like tonight’s, I kept YES on while I made gleeful and petulant comments on Twitter.
Girardi’s postgame conference with the reporters actually kept my attention for a couple of reasons: 1) for the way in which he defended his player, and 2) the managing of an injury-depleted bullpen.
There was one particular exchange of note: the question, which I cannot quote word-for-word, so please pardon the summary, nor can I officially identify who asked it:
Q: So, since it seems like you skipped Vazquez, so he didn’t have to handle the pressure of the situation–
The answer involved a very animated Girardi. Now, I’m sure, behind closed doors that some have been privy to seeing him really light up, but as far as anything I’ve seen on television, this was the most, erm, cross I have seen the Yankee skipper:
““I want to make this clear. He was not skipped because of that situation. Our bullpen is a mess. We needed a long guy. We could not activate Chan Ho Park if you didn’t have a long man. You couldn’t call up some of the guys we sent down, you couldn’t recall them, and you did not have Nova. We wanted Chan Ho Park back in our bullpen, and that’s why Javy had to do it.”
Let’s dissect that a bit, shall we?
First, there’s Girardi’s defense of Vazquez. It should not have needed to occur at all, but there you have it.
No, no one expects Javier Vazquez to be the Yankee ace, nor do you want to embarrass him, but if he can’t take the mound against a decent team (and Boston, thus far, is not), then he shouldn’t be pitching in baseball. Yes, I saw the references to “the last time Javier pitched in a Yankee uniform in relief” on Twitter, and yes, how could I not think about it, but, see, that’s the thing about baseball. You can’t forever dwell on past failures.
If Javy’s moved on, then we probably should, too.
Second, there’s Girardi’s admission that the Yankee bullpen is, in his words, “a mess”.
This ‘mess’ is due to a couple reasons, most of which relate directly to one another, starting with the rained out game in Detroit. The double-header the next day meant that some other starter had to be found for Sunday’s game against the Twins, as both Vazquez and Hughes pitched on the same day. Sabathia took the final game against the Tigers, and Burnett and Pettitte the first two against the Twins.
The Yankees had two long men in the bullpen: Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova, and the start was given to Mitre. You can debate the merits of Mitre over Nova all you want, but this is besides the point.
Mitre left the game on Sunday with a lead, having given the Yankees five innings, and thus making himself unavailable for Monday’s game. After Joba’s high-stress outing on Sunday, as well as having been up twice on Saturday, Girardi had also deemed him (along with Robertson) unavailable for tonight’s game. In a later comment, Girardi reflected, saying how hard it can be to not use arms, but that the more important obligation is to keep everyone healthy–which, unlike what Joe Torre may have you believe, means not over-using relievers. It means that some days you’ll be in a lurch, because as much as you might want to use reliever B instead of reliever E, reliever B just needs that day off. His health is much more important than one game in a 162 game season.
Thus, at the start of today’s game, if you did not include Vazquez, the Yankees had at their disposal: Boone Logan, Damaso Marte, Chan Ho Park (replacing Ivan Nova off of the DL), Mariano Rivera and….well, that’s it. Alfredo Aceves is on the DL, and Chamberlain and Robertson were unavailable.
Chan Ho Park, who can pitch more than one inning in relief if need be, but not five, was then tapped to pitch two, and in his first game back from the disabled list, he was, shall we say, a little more than rusty. This was very possibly (I’m not in Girardi’s head, so I can’t say for sure) in Girardi’s mind when he told Vazquez to be ready to pitch out of the bullpen.
The Yankees, then, really needed Hughes to give their bullpen length tonight, but as happens with a young starter, Hughes was unable to do so. Boone Logan faced his few batters–and not especially well, either, Chan Ho Park his, Damaso Marte for nearly two innings, his.
With the exception of Mariano, who would have pitched had it been a save situation, Vazquez was literally the last pitcher the Yankees had at their disposal. As a starter, had the game gone into extras, Vazquez could have, in Girardi’s words, given them 100 pitches if need be–fortunately, this was not the case.
Tomorrow, the Yankees, I guess, might have Chamberlain, Robertson and Mariano available, assuming all are healthy, and I don’t know about the others. Thus, the forecast for rain and more rain may very well be a blessing.
Bullpen management is not easy, since bullpens themselves are often fluid. In 2008 and 2009, Girardi proved to us, no matter how much we went ‘buuh, that makes no sense!’, that he knows what he’s doing on this point (Certain games of the ALCS excepted). Girardi has taken, the past two seasons, a bullpen that looked like an arson squad in April, and turned it into a solid core for the team. While we might rail against his overmanaging, the fact is, when he does it, he’s doing his best to keep arms from falling off of guys–which doesn’t just hurt the team that game, but can ruin careers. Ask Scott Proctor (et al).
When a bullpen is compromised because of rainouts and injury, managing it becomes even harder. Can you honestly say that you would avoid the temptation to go to Chamberlain in the eighth tonight? Really? Especially when you consider that it was, after all, a Yankees-Red Sox game?
I’ll admit that at first the Vazquez-to-the-bullpen-for-this-week move didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but after the course of tonight’s game, it’s a lot easier to see why it was done.
You can argue about bullpen construction–if having two lefties is really ultimately necessary–all you want, but as it turns out, Girardi’s got a pretty good handle on this managing thing.
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