(The following is being syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)
I’m always the first to pipe up about Joe’s on-field decisions when it comes to managing his bullpen, be they good calls or bad calls (usually bad). But for the Yankees to extend that questionable bullpen decision-making to the pre-game, well that’s something I’m not familiar with and something I was very surprised to see play out yesterday. If you were not aware, the Yankees entered last night’s game quite understaffed in their relief corps after the previous 2 games. Let’s review:
- David Phelps- Unavailable after pitching 2.1 innings in relief of Freddy Garcia on Tuesday night
- Cory Wade- Ditto
- D-Rob- Unavailable after pitching 1 inning in consecutive nights on Monday and Tuesday
- Mo- Ditto*
* (Mo shouldn’t have been available, but when your team gets the lead in extra innings on the road, you can’t leave that lead in the hands of Clay Rapada)
That left the Yankees with just 2 guaranteed available arms out of the ‘pen last night in Boone Logan and Clay Rapada, both guys who are best utilized as short-relief lefty specialists. Rafael Soriano was a game-time decision after ripping the nail off the middle finger of his pitching hand while warming up on Tuesday night, and I don’t remember reading anywhere prior to the game that his availability had been confirmed. The Yankees knew all of this after last night’s game ended. None of this was a surprise or something that caught them off guard, and they had plenty of time to make a roster move to add some depth, and yet they chose not to.
CC Sabathia was the starting pitcher last night, and Joe’s plan was to ride him until he couldn’t anymore to help save his short ‘pen. Normally this is a very sound strategy. After all, we just got done questioning Joe’s decision to overmanage CC in the 1st inning of the 1st game of the season last week; him staying in the dugout, letting CC do his thing, and only coming out when he had to take the ball (presumably during or after the 7th or 8th inning) would have been just fine on paper. But once again, the big picture was not considered when formulating this plan. The man on the mound to start the game last night was not the CC we’re used to seeing, and as I’ve touched on before, he hasn’t been since arriving at camp in February. This was evident last Friday when he struggled with his fastball command and evident last night when he struggled with it again.
When he struggles with his fastball command, CC, like most pitchers, tends to be inefficient with his pitch couns, and he was just that last night, throwing 74 pitches in his first 3 innings of work. It became clear after the 2nd inning that CC was not going to be throwing 7 or more innings, and it also became clear that the Yankees had left themselves in a bad spot by not having the available arms to cover for him. Even worse, they didn’t even seem to consider the benefit of adding an extra arm to cover for the possibility of CC having to leave the game due to injury (a real risk considering he took a comebacker off the pitching hand in the 2nd) or adverse weather conditions (also a risk considering the game started late after a 20-minute rain delay).
The smart, and right, decision would have been to make a roster move after Tuesday night’s game or yesterday morning to add reinforcements and make sure there were enough available arms out in the bullpen to cover for any worst-case scenario. That would have involved sending Phelps down, something that’s less than ideal given how well he’s performed in his 2 outings so far, but would have given the team what they needed last night. Cody Eppley and Dellin Betances are both on the 40-man roster and were both available last night. Betances was scheduled to start for Empire State and would have been good for 70-80+ pitches if needed. If the Yankees didn’t like those options, they could have moved Joba or Cesar Cabral to the 60-day DL and called up Manny Delcarmen.
The reality is that Phelps is probably going to be sent back down anyway when Pettite a/o Pineda return, and he’s still got all his options left. Making the move to send him down and add an arm that could have pitched last night would have been a much better decision than doing nothing and leaving your bullpen exposed, and much better than forcing Joe to use Mo for a 3rd straight game in early April. Recent history has shown that early overwork doesn’t translate into success for Mo, nor does messing with shuttling young pitchers from starting to relief roles, which is probably what Joe would have done with Phil Hughes last night if he really got into a pinch. And not for nothing, but running up CC’s pitch count into the 110s in his 2nd start of the season doesn’t exactly match up with the goal of managing his regular season workload to keep him healthy.
I’m all for having faith in your ace and wanting to put the team on his shoulders, but I question the logic in doing that so early in the season with CC when he’s still clearly trying to find his game. I also question the logic in not wanting to be prepared to handle something unforeseen happening to CC that would have prevented him from going deep into last night’s game when the bullpen availability situation was known by all the decision makers in plenty of time to make a move. Yes, it was just one game, but every game counts at the Major League level and as Herm Edwards taught us, you play to win the game. Having a bullpen comprised of just Logan, Rapada, and and iffy Soriano is not a winning strategy.
No disrespect to the guys in Triple-A, but it’s really not that big a deal if they win or lose. The MiL guys that are on the 40-man roster are there for exactly these types of situations and Joe, Cash, and whoever else is involved in making the calls willingly decided to do nothing with those guys yesterday, creating unnecessary extra workload for their ace starting pitcher, their 42-year-old closer, and potentially forcing them into having to shuffle their rotation around if one of their starters had to be used last night. Luckily, everything worked out and the Yankees won the game, and credit to CC for getting through 6 and Soriano for sucking it up and pitching, but that still doesn’t excuse the failure of the Yankee shot callers to make the right call and add an arm.
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