In last night’s 1-0 loss to the Rays, Girardi handed the game to Kerry Wood and Boone Logan after Sabathia’s masterful 8 inning performance. After the Yankees failed to put runs on the board, Girardi’s bullpen grew thin and he turned to Chad Gaudin, who managed to escape unharmed but could not have been any more shaky and fear-inspiring, really. After that, Sergio Mitre entered the game and promptly served up a walkoff home run to Reid Brignac. This left Mariano Rivera, David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain sitting on the bench and fans fuming at home.
After the game, Girardi revealed that he was saving Rivera for a save situation. Most managers abide by this rule, not bringing in their closer in a tie game in extra innings on the road since the best-case scenario is that the tie holds and the manager needs another inning from his bullpen. This isn’t the smartest of baseball maxims, and Girardi himself doesn’t always subscribe to this rule. He used Rivera last week in a tie game on the road. Here, though, it seems that he was saving Rivera’s arm for only a save situation. This means he wasn’t going to risk using Rivera unless victory was imminent. This move is hard to second-guess because Rivera has been used heavily recently, and is not exactly young. At minimum, I understand the reasoning behind it and it was hardly the worst thing that happened last night. As for David Robertson, Girardi wanted to hold him out of the game because he threw a combined 48 pitches in Friday and Saturday’s loss to the Rangers. Again, given the fact that the Yankees have nearly clinched a playoff spot, this move is defensible.
Yet, there is the question of Joba Chamberlain. Despite the fact that he’s had 4 appearances in September and has thrown a whopping total of 50 pitches, Chad Jennings from LoHud reported that Girardi and Eiland wanted to give Chamberlain the day off:
“Girardi, Chamberlain and Dave Eiland all said Chamberlain is 100 percent healthy, but Chamberlain said the Yankees had talked to him about the fact he’s approaching 65 games this season. They wanted to give him a break, and Chamberlain said he was OK with taking it. Eiland suggested the decision was primarily about saving bullets.”
So here’s the big question. Is Joba already fatigued, or are they trying to prevent fatigue? If Joba is already fatigued, and is battling an achy shoulder, forearm, back, groin or leg, then this move makes sense. The team is about 3 weeks away from the playoffs. The furor at Girardi is intense now; imagine what would happen if Joba hurt his shoulder in a relatively meaningless game and then revealed that he and the coaching staff had been trying to manage his aches and pains for a few weeks. There’d be a lynch mob outside Girardi’s door, and rightfully so. He’d actually deserve the accusation thrown at him last night that he’s “picking up where Torre left off”. The team needs a healthy bullpen, and it’s Girardi’s job to manage their workload down the stretch.
Yet, if Girardi and Eiland were simply attempting to prevent fatigue and “save bullets”, as they said, then something doesn’t quite add up. For one, there’s the way they’ve managed Swisher’s injury. Sure, it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll injure himself more by continuing to play on his bruised knee. However, it seems equally unlikely that he’ll heal quickly while continuing to play. Swisher has more appearances than Alex Rodriguez in September, and he looks like he’s running with a wooden peg-leg. Swisher himself seems to want rest, saying that his injury is like “dragging around [his] leg.” He continued:
“We took the MRI before and it said that there was nothing, but I found that really, really hard to believe. We’ll go in there tomorrow and whatever happens, just take it head on. It’s been going like this for a week, man. As much as you want to be out there and be playing, on one leg ain’t exactly the way I want to be going out there. … If we get this MRI and they say, “Take a week off,” I want to get healthy.”
To me, this sounds like “please stop playing me until I can recover”. Another example is Brett Gardner. Gardner got the night off last night with sore wrist, but was used as a pinch-runner in the late innings. Given the physical toll stealing bases takes on your body, including the risk of jamming your thumb/hand/wrist when sliding headfirst into second base, one would have to imagine continuing to use him as a bench option isn’t the best way to get his wrist to heal. Yesterday, Gardner said he couldn’t even pick up a bat. A few hours later, he went barreling into second base as a pinch-runner. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s not the most cautious route either.
Finally, there’s CC Sabathia. This team relies heavily on Sabathia to be the anchor of the staff. In the 2009 playoffs he pitched consistently on short rest and early indications appear to be that he’ll do this same this year. Last year he credited Girardi for managing his workload down the stretch as a reason why he was able to pitch so well into October and November. Indeed, his pitch counts in September of 2009 consistently decreased as the team got closer to the playoffs: 105, 118, 108, 105, 96 and 82. Now, Sabathia is a big guy and has shown throughout his career to be able to handle extraordinary workloads. Yet, one must wonder why his bullets aren’t being similarly conserved. After the seventh inning he had thrown around 100 pitches, yet returned for the eighth inning and finished the game with 119 pitches. It seemed that the conservation preference was decidedly in favor of the bullpen.
I don’t have a problem with resting Chamberlain per se, and the intent of this piece is not to criticize Girardi. It is to try to resolve what appears to be a discrepancy: that the team seems to be cautious about preventing fatigue with some players and ever-so-slightly careless with others. It’s entirely possible that I’m reading too much into this, and that my knowledge is incomplete. I don’t pretend to be a medical expert or know more than Girardi and the coaching staff, and if Joba is already fatigued then I have no problem with the way they managed him. If they were merely being cautious, though, then there are two big questions. First, is Joba a reliever who needs more rest than others? Secondly, why isn’t the staff similarly cautious with other valuable players? I understand that giving players rest and trying to win isn’t an either/or choice. Girardi is trying to do both, and it’s no easy task. But given what we saw last night, one can be forgiven for wondering what exactly is going on.
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