Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bullpen Management

Let's not get too bent out of shape about Brian Bruney.

He had a bad game.

The question is was it really necessary for him to come into this game?

Bruney failed to hold on to a two-run lead in the eighth inning, but was bailed out by clutch hits from Melky Cabrera and Derek Jeter as the Yankees won their sixth straight, beating the Mariners 8-5 Tuesday at Yankees Stadium and cutting the lead of the Red Sox to two games in the AL East.

I'll let Dave handle the details of Boston's ugly loss, though he may be at a loss for words about how the Sox's mighty bullpen could blow a nine-run lead.

I'll keep my eyes on the Yankees instead.

It's been a rough return from the DL for Bruney. In his last four games, he's allowed three runs on four hits and five walks in 3-1/3 innings.

And Tuesday was his ugliest game by far.

After Alex Rodriguez continued his re-emergence with a two-run homer to give the Yankees a 5-3 lead in the seventh, Bruney came on to get the lead to Mo.

He couldn't.

But unlike when Bruney's gotten into trouble in the past, control wasn't the issue. He was throwing his pitches for strikes (14 of 22). He was just a couple of miles per hour off on the fastball and was getting hit.

Franklin Gutierrez and Chris Woodward singled to lead off before Kenji Johjima singled to drive in Gutierrez. After Ronny Cedeno sacrificed and Ichiro Suzuki was intentionally walked, Russell Branyan lofted a sacrifice to tie the score. Bruney got Jose Lopez to ground into a force out to end it.

“That’s my bad, obviously. I thought I threw the ball pretty well tonight," Bruney
"I can go home on sleep on that. I’m fine with it. It’s not like I’m out there walking guys to their bases every time. I feel good. That’s baseball, man. The ball bounces six inches to the right and we got a double play and I’m out of the winning. I was OK with the way I threw the ball tonight. Obviously the results weren’t there. As long as we get a W, I honestly don’t care.”

Throwing strikes is a huge issue for Bruney, no doubt, and every pitcher will have a game like this. Heck, all players go through slumps. That means any talk that the Yankees should remove Bruney as the eighth-inning guy is premature ... for now. If Bruney continues to struggle for another four or five outings, then there should be some discussion. In the meantime, just ride it out.

Fortunately, the offense, which had struggled to take advantage of its run-scoring opportunities in this game (4-for-16 with runners in scoring position), was able to bail out Bruney. And again Melky came up huge late.

Hideki Matsui lead off the eighth against Sean White with a double and pinch runner Brett Gardner advanced to third when Nick Swisher beat out an attempted sacrifice bunt for a single.

Why Joe Girardi is asking Swisher, who was hitting left-handed, to sacrifice there instead of pull the ball and possibly drive in the run is beyond me. A ground ball to the right side or a decent fly gets the runner over anyway.

But it worked out for Girardi. Melky then smoked a double to center to bring in Gardner and put runners on second and third. Jeter brought in the last two with a soft single over the drawn in infield, giving Rivera a very comfortable 8-5 lead to protect for his 19th save.

But it should never have come to that.

Joba Chamberlain had another of what's becoming and average start for him, failing to protect a two-run lead and allowing three runs on nine hits and three walks in 5-1/3 innings. He struck out four and threw 55 of 96 pitches for strikes, but allowed at least one runner in each inning.

The Yankees are 10-5 in Joba's starts this season, but Joba needs to take the next in his development if he wants to prove that he can be a legitimate major league starter.

He's 4-2 with a 3.89 ERA and has allowed only 79 hits in 81 innings with 73 strikeout. Those are all pretty good numbers, but he's averaging only 5-1/3 innings a start and has walked 40, which is way too many.

For some reason, Joba just isn't going after hitters, especially once he has two strikes on him. He nibbles and tries to get guys to chance. The result is that he's very inefficient and struggles to get past the sixth.

That's an issue with pitching philosophy that has to change for him. He has lively, moving fastball that is more than adequate enough to blow past hitters. That needs to be his No. 1 pitch and he needs to start trusting and using it more.

Otherwise he's going to continue to waste 2-0 and 3-1 leads like he did Tuesday.

Robinson Cano, still hitting fifth in the lineup, and Jorge Posada started the second with singles before Matsui reached on an error, allowing Cano to score and putting runners on the corners. Cabrera brought in Posada with a sacrifice fly after Swisher struck out to make it 2-0.

The Mariners got one back in the third on Ronny Cedeno's leadoff homer, but Cabrera restored the lead to two, bringing in Cano on a forceout in the fourth.

But Joba couldn't hold it in the fifth. Ichiro singled to lead off, stole second and third and scored on Branyan's single to right. After a forceout, Joba walked Ken Griffey Jr. to put runners on first and second. Mike Sweeney flew out to center, but Gutierrez tied the score with a single.

Joba started the sixth by allowing a single to Johjima, but after a sacrifice by Cedeno, he was replaced by Phil Coke, who got the last two outs with ease.

Phil Hughes then came on to pitch a dominant, efficient seventh, retiring the side on nine pitches, and likely would have pitched the eighth had A-Rod not homered.

But why not let Hughes pitch the eighth anyway? He's a guy who is used to pitching multiple innings and needs to get some experience handling the eighth anyway.

Girardi went with the book by pitching Bruney, but here's the issue: it's a long season and these relievers can't pitch every day. We don't know what's going to happen in today's game. We don't know if the bullpen is going to be called upon to preserve another slim lead.

Giradi had a chance to give Bruney a break, a day off. He had a chance to keep him fresh and ready for the next day. Yes, Hughes might not have been available in that case, but Coke could have filled-in.

Girardi's decision did not cost the Yankees Tuesday, but games are not always won or lost on the day they are played. Sometimes ... make that often game are won or lost based on the decisions the manager makes the game before.

It will be interesting to see how Girardi's handling of the bullpen Tuesday plays out today.

Of Note
The Yankees acquired utilityman Eric Hinske from the Pirates for two low-level, mid-range prospects: righthander Casey Erickson and outfielder Eric Fryer.

Hinske is a good, professional bat who will be able to help the Yankees in the corner spots in the outfield and infield. He gives the Yankees the bench depth they lost when Xavier Nady was lost for the season

Erickson, who has pitched primarily as a reliever, has looked good at Class A Charleston, going 3-3 with a 2.25 ERA in 21 games, including three starts. Fryer was at Class A Tampa, hitting under .260. We'll see what becomes of them.

Ramiro Pena will be sent down to make room for Hinske. Pena needs to play more, but I hate not having a legit middle infielder to back up short and second. Cody Ransom might be able to do it, but his glove is not half of Pena's.

The move also like means that when Jose Molina is activated off the DL, Francisco Cervelli will be sent down. Unless the Yankees want to drop a pitcher from the bullpen, they won't have a spot on the roster to carry three catchers.

Runners In Scoring Position
4-for-16 (.250)
185-for-711 (.260)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
119-for-439 (.271)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Wednesday vs. Mariners, 7:05 p.m., YES
Jarrod Washburn (4-5, 3.22) vs. Andy Pettitte (2-3, 4.38)

Pettitte was brilliant two starts ago in Florida, but awful his last start in Atlanta. Which will get get today? Pettitte, who like most Yankees pitchers has also struggled with the new ballpark, needs to give the Yankees a deep start, especially since Bruney, who threw 22 pitches, likely won't be available. He'll also need to be sharp because while Washburn his only 5-5 against the Yankees in his career, his ERA is 2.56. The guy pitches well against the Yankees.


Dave said...

I have no explanation. As you can tell from my post, I am pretty much speechless about the whole thing.

chipmonk007 said...



Dave said...

No...I said "pretty much" speechless. Not the same thing.

Aviv said...

Dave is very rarely ever completely speechless. It's almost a national holiday when he is.