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Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Franklin Morales in the 8th? Please explain

By Gordon Edes

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Why was Franklin Morales the choice to start the eighth inning Monday night, instead of bringing back Junichi Tazawa?

John Farrell went to his bullpen after Clay Buchholz had given him six innings. He brought in left-hander Craig Breslow to start the seventh against the top of Tampa Bay’s lineup. The immediate impact of that decision was to get David DeJesus, who had singled and doubled, out of the game. Rays manager Joe Maddon replaced DeJesus with the right-handed hitting Sean Rodriguez, who popped out.

The switch-hitting Ben Zobrist followed with a ground-ball single through the left side, and Farrell went to Tazawa to face Longoria and Wil Myers He could have stayed with Breslow, who has had success against Longoria (1 for 6, 3 strikeouts), and Myers (0 for 3), especially with the left-handed hitting Loney following Myers. But Farrell elected to summon the right-hander, Tazawa, who had retired Longoria all six times he had faced him, striking him out three times. Tazawa induced a pop fly from Longoria, and struck out Myers. He threw 11 pitches.

But before the game, while meeting with the team’s beat reporters, Farrell had talked about how Tazawa has looked much better, especially of late, when he hasn’t had to go back out for another inning.

“I think he’s throwing the ball well,’’ Farrell said. “And in those one-inning stints, whether it’s coming in to complete an inning or taking a clean inning and completing it, right now that’s where he’s the best.’’

He noted Tazawa’s last regular-season outing in Baltimore, in which he breezed through the seventh, then gave up hits to the first two batters he faced in the eighth, both of whom scored.

“Shorter relievers thrive on the adrenaline, and to crank it back up that second inning, that’s where I probably put him in a less-than situation,’’ the manager said.

James Loney, who has been the Rays’ hottest hitter (5 hits in his previous 6 at-bats), was due to lead off the eighth. The third hitter due in the inning was also left-handed, Matt Joyce. Farrell opted for Morales, who missed 93 games due to injuries this season but beat out Matt Thornton as the situational lefty with a strong September. He posted a 1.86 ERA in 9 2/3 innings last month and had gotten some big strikeouts of left-handed hitters, including Todd Helton of the Rockies and Nick Markakis of the Orioles.

But Morales walked Loney on a full count to start the eighth, and Desmond Jennings bunted into no-man’s land for a single, putting two on with no out. Joyce popped his bunt try foul, Saltalamacchia making a spectacular play, racing back to the screen to make the catch for the inning’s first out. But second baseman Dustin Pedroia collided with shortstop Stephen Drew on Yunel Escobar’s ground ball up the middle, Drew couldn’t make the play, and the bases were loaded. Pedroia, who wound up on the left-field side of second base, said afterward he was just trying to make sure the ball didn’t get through, which would have resulted in a run.

Joe Maddon sent Delmon Young to pinch-hit for catcher Jose Molina, and he hit a ground ball gloved by a diving Mike Napoli, who scrambled to his feet, and with obvious disgust took the out at first as pinch-runner Sam Fuld scored. The walk had led to the go-ahead run.

Morales averaged 5.3 walks per nine innings this season. This one could not have come at a worse time. Farrell had noted, before the game, the importance of relievers with good command.

“Whether it’s Taz, whether it’s Bres, the fact they come in and throw quality stuff and throw strikes, that’s the biggest thing,’’ Farrell said. “We don’t really fear that they’re going to compound the inning with erratic command. And he’s done that his whole career. He’s a strike thrower.