Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Guillen needs to find new closer for Marlins
By David Schoenfield
Where do we begin? I thought the fireworks were slated for Wednesday, but a hot and humid night in the Midwest meant the balls were flying, pitchers were ducking and Heath Bell is probably dreaming of the fish tacos at Petco Park right about now.
The Brewers and Marlins played one of the craziest, most entertaining games of the season at Miller Park on Tuesday, the Brewers winning in dramatic 13-12 fashion on Aramis Ramirez's walk-off home run off Bell in the 10th inning.
Maybe we should have expected weirdness when Brewers beat writer Tom Haudricourt tweeted, "If you're at Miller Park today, don't expect roof to be closed for any reason. Creates too much of a sauna effect in extreme temps."
Sauna and baseball. Not two things I want together on my menu.
The game was normal enough through five innings, with the Brewers leading 3-2. But then Milwaukee scored six runs in the bottom of the sixth as Corey Hart homered off Anibal Sanchez (check out Livan Hernandez's reaction) and Ryan Braun blasted a three-run homer off Chad Gaudin. But what set up that six-run inning was one of the strangest intentional walks of the season.
AROUND THE SWEETSPOT NETWORK
Capitol Avenue Club
Mark Simon posted a SweetSpot article about Andrelton Simmons' defense. Simmons won the June award for top defender of the month, to the surprise of nobody who follows the Braves with any type of regularity. If Simmons isn't the best defensive shortstop in baseball, he is at least the best defensive shortstop in the NL. (Brendan Ryan still may have the MLB crown.) But we all knew he would defend this well. The unexpected results for Simmons have come at the plate, where he's hitting .326/.369/.505.
Think back to the 6-4 loss to the Twins. The Tigers' incumbent DH and established No. 5 hitter Delmon Young came up three times with runners in scoring position. He popped out with the bases loaded the first time, drove in a run with a sac fly the second time, and flied out to right the third time. The sac fly is well and good, but part of the reason the Tigers have failed to meet expectations this year is their lack of power and inability to get the big hit.
Much has been made about the Reds' tendency to play short-handed. Someone gets hurt and it's a week or 10 days before they can see fit to use the DL. In past years, I've understood. In past years, I've been frustrated, too. But now, have you looked at the 40-man roster? Have you seen Louisville's roster? There is literally nobody down there who is going to help.
With the Brewers leading 4-2 and runners at second and third, Travis Ishikawa pinch-hit for Marco Estrada with Gaudin on in relief. Ozzie Guillen elected to put on Ishikawa -- a .264 career hitter who had struck out in more than a quarter of his plate appearances this season. Sure, that set up a righty-righty matchup with Carlos Gomez, but with his speed Gomez is a difficult guy to double up. Plus, it brings you one batter closer to Braun getting an appearance in the inning. Gomez did hit a slow grounder to second base but shortstop Jose Reyes dropped the throw; they weren't going to double up Gomez anyway. So the bases were still loaded, Norichika Aoki hit a sacrifice fly and the error meant Braun did get to bat.
You can blame the error, but the intentional walk was just as vital. Putting runners on base on purpose is a good way to lead to a big inning.
Another odd decision was Brewers manager Ron Roenicke not double-switching during any of his pitching changes. This meant closer John Axford was removed after pitching the ninth inning -- and a grand total of 13 pitches. To be fair, Axford had pitched one inning the previous two days, so maybe he was on a one-inning limit. But ... ahh, closers never pitch more than one inning anyway. So that meant the Brewers had to turn to Hernandez for the 10th. Yes, it was a crazy game, but this happens all the time, managers running out of relievers too quickly and turning to their mop-up guy in a tie game. Manny Parra was pulled after two batters and eight pitches -- pinch-hit for when the Brewers were ahead 11-5 in the bottom of the seventh. Why not let Parra go another inning? He's a former starter. He can pitch to more than two batters. Why start unnecessarily churning through relievers?
So Kameron Loe and then Francisco Rodriguez struggled (K-Rod, pulled after 18 pitches, albeit pitching for the third day in a row). But if K-Rod and Axford were somewhat limited, isn't that more reason to keep Parra in the game?
Anyway, that led to Roenicke using the ancient Brewer. Sure enough, the Marlins scored a run off him.
Luckily, the Brewers did have one more move up their sleeve: Bell, the Marlins' Proven Closer. Who has been terrible this season. He entered with four blown saves and three losses, and that didn't include his June 25 outing against the Cardinals when he gave up four runs in the ninth to blow a 6-2 lead -- he didn't get a blown save because it wasn't a save opportunity.
But Tuesday's game was. He walked the light-hitting Gomez to lead off the inning and with two outs Ramirez scorched a 95-mph fastball over the center-field fence. Look, Bell has a big contract ... he's been a good closer ... he also isn't doing a good job of getting batters out right now. Now, Guillen had no option but to turn to Bell in this game since he'd burned through his bullpen as well -- three of his relievers were removed after throwing fewer than 10 pitches.
The bigger issue is how much longer he'll stick with the Bell. The Marlins are 38-42; they can't afford to punt any more of these late-inning leads. Bell has five blown saves plus that St. Louis game. He's 34 years old, overweight, has a declining strikeout rate and doesn't have Petco Park to protect him. The Marlins don't have a lot of other great options -- their bullpen ERA is 15th in the NL -- but at this point, anybody seems a better option.
All Guillen has to do is realize that Bell himself, before turning into a Proven Closer, is now just another middle reliever.
So big win for the Brewers. Tough loss for the Marlins. And kudos to the fans in Milwaukee for sticking around for a game that lasted 4 hours and 28 minutes. You got your fireworks a day early.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Josh Thole has cat-like swiftness? Why not, he just pounced home plate to score.