I understand your stance. Charlie Manuel has led this team to two consecutive World Series appearances. Rich Dubee has worked with these pitchers for several years and he knows his personnel better than a sportswriter does. Gotcha.
But World Series appearances do not immunize a coaching staff from ever being criticized. They absolutely should not serve as a protective blanket for a manager or a fall-back for fans who blindly follow that manager.
Should we never question Joe Girardi’s over-managing because the team he coached won a World Series last year? Is Bobby Cox allowed to play Melky Cabrera everyday without public retribution just because the Braves won a bunch of pennants?
Charlie Manuel makes a ton of good decisions. His ability as a manager extends far beyond strategic moves. He is the perfect leader of these men because of his laid-back, consistent temperament.
Even before a corner was turned in 2007, the mantra for Charlie Manuel’s Phillies has been “one-game-at-a-time,” a cliche thrown around often but perfected by this squad. Manuel has a ton of good qualities. This is by no means an article bashing the manager.
This is an article bashing the blatant misuse of the Phillies bullpen since last Friday’s 9-1 loss to the Mets.
Let’s start with the most recent game – Monday night’s loss to the Cardinals – and then work our way back through the Mets series.
The Joe Blanton Debut Game
Kentucky Fried Starter pitched six very good innings before running into a bit of trouble in the seventh. Nick Stavinoha led off with a homer, making it 2-1 Cardinals, but Blanton proceeded to retire two of the next three hitters. Albert Pujols hit a liner to center that dropped in just in front of Shane Victorino, and a call to the pen was made.
For Nelson Figueroa…
Not Contreras, or Romero, or even David Herndon. Not Chad Durbin, either. Durbin was unusable because he pitched two innings in Sunday night’s 11-5 win over the Mets. Two innings that could have been eaten by the guys coming back from injuries.
Durbin’s been one of the better relievers this year. Shouldn’t he be saved for meaningful situations?
In came Figueroa, a Clay Condrey-type whose sole purpose in the major leagues is to eat dead innings in blowout games or avail himself for a spot start here-and-there.
Figueroa is not a late & close reliever. He is not the guy you go to with two men on in a one-run ballgame in the seventh inning. Manuel had long been ejected by this point so you would have to imagine Rich Dubee was the man who made this call.
It didn’t work.
Figueroa threw one wild pitch, almost threw another, walked Matt Holliday, then gave up a three-run double to David Freese. For good measure, Figgy then allowed an RBI single to Colby Rasmus and it was 6-1.
The Phils hit two solo homers afterwards but the game was over as soon as Figueroa trotted to the mound. Blanton finished with a “meh” pitching line that in no way reflected how well he pitched.
The night before, a few bad managerial decisions were overshadowed by a monster nine-run fourth inning. But let’s take a closer look.
The Moyer-Walk Game
Subsequent results do not make a bad decision a great one. Allowing Jamie Moyer to bat with the bases loaded in a 5-3 game against Johan Santana was not a good decision. Before you throw your arms in the air, let me explain.
Johan Santana has walked 2 batters per 9 innings since becoming a full-time starter in the major leagues. Jamie Moyer is the least imposing hitter in the history of existence. Manuel didn’t send Moyer up to the plate in that situation knowing he would walk.
None of us knew he would walk. 99 times out of 100, that situation plays out like this: Moyer makes an out, Phillies strand three; 5-3 Mets after four innings.
It’s not a good decision just because Moyer walked, then Victorino hit a slam, then Polanco singled, then Utley hit a two-run tortata. That’s basing your assessment off of extremely improbable subsequent results. That’s being one of those people that acts like hindsight isn’t 20/20.
Moyer had pitched terribly in the first four innings of that game. He represented nothing at the plate or on the mound. THAT is a situation when you have Nelson Figueroa warming up. Moyer made two awful mistakes to David Wright and Rod Barajas, and about four more to Gary Matthews Jr. and Jeff Francoeur, who each hit mammoth foul home runs.
In that situation, you pinch-hit, no matter if it’s the fourth inning or the eighth inning. If the Phillies didn’t score nine runs and the Mets wound up winning that game, trust me, I would not be the only person writing this article.
What bugged me the most about the decision (even though I thoroughly enjoyed the game itself and watched it twice more on replay later that night,) is that if it were the 5th inning rather than the 4th, Manuel most certainly WOULD have pinch-hit for Moyer.
Why? Because managers have this fetish about the starter going at least five innings. It’s like bringing in your closer for a three-run save – most managers just do it because other managers do it.
The five-inning cutoff is understandable in the sense that a pitcher must go five innings to get a win, but it makes no sense when a pitcher is down 5-3 and pitching like a 47-year-old Kyle Kendrick.
What would have been the big deal about putting Figueroa in to pitch the fifth and sixth? Then you have three innings to kill between a handful of relievers that haven’t been overworked.
Whatever. All’s well that ends well. I am sure I’ll hear a lot of complaints for mentioning this, but please just remember that if it didn’t work out perfectly, I would not be the only one writing about it.
You know what did work out perfectly?
Halladay Goes Complete
Roy Halladay is an abnormal breed of pitcher. He can throw a lot of pitches without losing velocity or effectiveness. He can move the ball and hit spots as well in the ninth as he can in the second. He went complete in a 10-0 game to rest the bullpen. No major problem there.
Baez for Two?
With the Phillies down 4-1 entering the sixth inning last Friday, Danys Baez was called on to replace the legendary Kyle Kendrick. Baez retired the side in order, inducing outs from Jason Bay, David Wright, and the 62nd best prospect according to Baseball America that is a “phenom” according to broadcasters just because he went 11-for-his-first-36. You may know him as Ike Davis.
(In other news, how’s that young phenom Jason Donald doin’ for the Indians organization?) See my point? I digress.
Baez pitched a scoreless sixth and, for some unfathomable reason, was sent out to pitch the seventh. The game was still close. It was 4-1. Jon Niese had been shutting down a dead offensive team, but he was not overpowering in any shape or form and this was not a game out of reach.
Baez hit Jeff Francoeur, who then stole second. Rod Barajas doubled him in. Baez walked the next batter, who just so happened to be the pitcher, Niese. Angel Pagan tripled them both in. Bye-bye, Baez.
Who in the dugout thought it would be a great idea to select Baez as a two-inning pitcher over Nelson Figueroa, Chad Durbin, or Jose Contreras? Figueroa and Durbin both have a ton of experience as long-relievers, and Contreras was a starter up until the middle of last year. But Baez is the guy you go to when you need more than one inning?
Baez has significantly worse numbers in pitches 26-50 than he does in the first twenty-five. The last three times he went more than an inning last year in Baltimore, Baez gave up runs each time and took the loss each time. In his only other one-plus inning outing with the Phils, he blew a save in Arizona.
Plus, Danys Baez has absolutely stunk this year. The only thing he’s done right is induce ground balls, but who cares about ground balls when you’ve allowed nine runs, sixteen baserunners, and two homers in ten innings?
The decision to keep Baez in for a second inning turned a 4-1 game into a blowout.
The Phillies are 14-11. It’s May 3rd. The team is still trying to get healthy and has yet to hit its stride. This isn’t a “sky is falling” article. It’s just that of these eleven losses, several of them could have turned out different had more reasonable decisions been made.
It is evidently clear that neither Manuel nor Dubee knows yet how to use this bullpen. There are a lot of new faces (Contreras, Baez, Herndon, Figgy,) and injured guys (Lidge, Romero, now Madson.) The only constant has been Chad Durbin.
In looking at possible late-inning solutions, how about Contreras? He’s struck out 12 batters in 6 2/3 innings. He’s allowed one run, a walkoff homer to Nate McLouth in the crazy Momentum Shift Game in Atlanta. He deserves a shot in late & close situations more than Figueroa or Baez.
At some point, the bullpen will become established and guys will settle down into roles. But until that time, we shouldn’t refrain from commenting on dumb decisions just because this team won a World Series two years ago.
(Pat Gallen’s video recap is coming later.)