Monday, April 15, 2013
Reds rescue Dusty Baker from blunder
By David Schoenfield
Consider that the Cincinnati Reds entered Monday's home game against the Philadelphia Phillies having lost five games in a row. Aroldis Chapman, the relief pitcher deemed so valuable as a late-inning reliever that the Reds backed off their plan to move him to the rotation, had thrown a grand total of five pitches in the previous seven days. His lone appearance in the past week came on Sunday, when he entered a game the Reds were losing 9-6.
It's too early to say the Reds were desperate for a win, but the Reds were desperate for a win. All they had to do was beat Cliff Lee. Bronson Arroyo came up huge for Dusty Baker's club, matching zeroes with Lee, and when the Reds broke through with two runs in the bottom of the eighth, he was poised to get the victory. He'd thrown only 79 pitches through seven innings, and considering the Reds' bullpen had lost all three games to the Pirates over the weekend, it was understandable that Baker sent Arroyo out there for the eighth.
So, no, I'm not busting him for that decision.
I will, however, call out Baker for leaving Arroyo in to face pinch-hitter Chase Utley with two outs and a man on. It's simple: You have one of the biggest weapons in the game in Chapman. USE HIM. LET THE MAN GET FOUR OUTS. Arroyo was having a fine game. Terrific, go out, tell him he pitched great, pat him on the butt and tell him to give you the ball. Arroyo can give up home runs (26 last year, 46 the year before). Utley can still hit 'em out of the park. Left-handed batters hit .108 against Chapman last year. They struck out in more than half their plate appearances. As Willie Stargell once said about Sandy Koufax, it's like trying to drink coffee with a fork.
But there was Arroyo pitching to Utley and there was Utley smashing a 2-1 sinker for a game-tying two-run homer. There was Chapman sitting in the bullpen and there were Reds fans going crazy and there was Baker, managing by that tired old book. Or the tired new book. Whatever you want to call it, this absurdity of not using your best reliever for more than three outs is growing to epic levels of idiocy. You'd think that after losing a lead in the eighth inning on Sunday, as Baker allowed by leaving in Jonathan Broxton to give up six runs, and giving up the go-ahead run in the seventh inning on Friday and Saturday, Baker would be sufficiently desperate for a win.
Hey, what do I know, though? Chapman had thrown 78 pitches all season. Maybe he was fatigued. Maybe Baker doesn't think he can get four outs. Maybe Baker trusted Arroyo to get that out and wasn't really just saving Chapman for the ninth.
Maybe I shouldn't be panning Baker since the Reds scored twice in the bottom of the eighth to grab the lead, leaving Chapman to come in to pitch a 1-2-3 ninth with two strikeouts. Instead of criticizing Baker, maybe I should be praising Arroyo for his effort. The veteran right-hander rarely cracks 90 on the radar gun. After he went 12-10 with a 3.74 ERA in 2012 and after he struggled in 2011 (5.07 ERA), some wondered if he was going to be more 2011 than 2012. But when he's on, he keeps opposing hitters off balance with his sinker/slider/slow curve repertoire, and that's what he did against the Phillies on Monday. With Johnny Cueto out at least a few weeks, the Reds will need more strong outings from Arroyo.
So, yes, give credit to Arroyo for coming up big when the Reds needed him. Give credit to Derrick Robinson for being a very fast human and beating out a little tapper to start the rally, to Shin-Soo Choo for a sacrifice bunt, to the Phillies' Laynce Nix for missing Zack Cozart's blooper (he should have caught it) and to Brandon Phillips for his two-run single.
It worked out OK for the Reds this game. But that won't always be the case.