Commentary

Ron Washington feels pinch of strategy

Criticism doesn't flinch Rangers manager, who defends decisions after Game 1 defeat

Updated: October 20, 2011, 4:44 PM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

ST. LOUIS -- Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington wasn't sitting in his office second-guessing his decisions in a 3-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the World Series.

[+] EnlargeEsteban German
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonRon Washington thought Esteban German could handle Marc Rzepczynski's off-speed pitches, but the pinch hitter struck out on three sliders.
That's not Washington's style. If he can learn from something, he will. But he's not one to dwell on things, especially if he believes he had sound reasons for making certain choices -- even when others aren't so sure.

"I did what I thought was right and they just beat us," Washington said.

The seventh inning didn't work as Washington had planned Wednesday. And criticism came his way.

The manager opted to go with pinch-hitter Esteban German, who hadn't had a postseason at-bat, instead of Yorvit Torrealba, another right-handed hitter on the bench, with two outs and two on. German struck out swinging on three sliders from left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski, ending the Rangers' threat. They didn't get another batter on base in the one-run loss.

How did Torrealba feel about it?

"It's his decision," Torrealba said, artfully dodging the question. "I'll be ready to play whenever he needs me."

Washington was asked eight questions in his postgame news conference and half of them were about that particular decision.

"He's a contact hitter," Washington said of German. "I thought he could handle Rzepczynski's off-speed stuff. He beat us. They beat us."

Torrealba is hitting .333 in limited action this postseason (4-for-12), including a double. But in his career, he's 1-for-27 as a pinch-hitter with 14 strikeouts. He hit just .231 with runners in scoring position this season (in 91 at-bats) and the numbers drop to .186 when runners are in scoring position with two outs.

"Can you guarantee me that if I used Torrealba he would have done anything different?" Washington said. "I used the guy that I thought could get me a base hit."

That was German, who had just 11 at-bats in the regular season but had six hits. He was 2-for-3 as a pinch-hitter. But German hadn't hit yet in the playoffs.

"That doesn't matter," German said. "You have to be ready whenever you're asked. The cold didn't matter. He threw some good pitches. I didn't get the hit."

In a close game in a National League park, benches matter. The Cardinals won that part of Game 1. Part of the reason: They've got a guy who hit .315 in 200 at-bats this season waiting to swing a bat.

Allen Craig, who was impressive for the Cardinals in 75 games but was difficult to get in the lineup all the time, came in with runners on the corners and two outs in a tie game in the sixth. He managed to hit Alexi Ogando's 98-mph fastball down the right-field line. Nelson Cruz tried to slide and make the catch but couldn't quite get there in time.

[+] EnlargeRon Washington
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireRon Washington said he understands if his decisions under NL rules come under more scrutiny.
"I threw the pitch where I wanted, but he hit it," Ogando said through a translator.

The Rangers quickly created a scoring opportunity the next half-inning, but it was the bottom of the order that came up in run-scoring situations.

Reliever Fernando Salas came in and gave up a single to Cruz and walked Mike Napoli on four pitches, clearly pitching around him. That's when the fun began.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa brought in the lefty Rzepczynski to pitch to left-handed hitter David Murphy. Washington had left Murphy in to face a lefty in the third inning of Game 6 of the AL Championship Series and Murphy came through with a big two-RBI single. But Washington felt that Rzepczynski's stuff necessitated going with a right-handed hitter. The numbers certainly support that. Left-handed batters hit just .163 against him and are just 1-for-7 in the playoffs.

Craig Gentry came in as a right-handed pinch-hitter who could stay on the field for Murphy. When Gentry struck out, Washington had to pinch-hit for Ogando as the pitcher's spot was up. That's when he went with German.

Three pitches later, the inning was over.

Washington said he didn't think that if he pinch-hit Torrealba that La Russa would go to Octavio Dotel, who hadn't been warming that long. So that didn't factor into the decision.

But Washington's call came down to using German, who hadn't played in the playoffs, or Torrealba, who doesn't have good numbers as a pinch hitter and was 0-for-5 against lefties in this postseason.

Maybe that choice illustrates the edge the Cardinals have on the bench, at least when it comes to pinch-hitters.

"We certainly didn't lose tonight, we just got beat," Washington said. "They had an opportunity to push a run across. The pinch-hitter got it done and ours didn't."

The skipper loves National League baseball. He enjoys the strategy and matching wits with other skippers he respects. He likes bunting runners over and pinch-hitting. He isn't afraid to make unconventional moves with his bench or his bullpen.

And with all of that comes criticism when things don't work out.

"I know that," Washington said. "I'm OK with that."

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.

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