Second-guessing Ron Washington
Texas manager's seventh-inning gamble on pinch hitter Esteban German was a mistake
ST. LOUIS -- You know how people talk about some players being such good batters they could step up to the plate in the middle of January and get a hit? Esteban German is not one of those guys.
True, German did hit for a far higher batting average during the regular season than Yorvit Torrealba (.455 to .273). Then again, pitcher Alexi Ogando had a higher batting average than either of them (.500). So I'm still mystified by Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington's costly pinch-hitting decision in the Rangers' 3-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the World Series.
Here was the situation. The Rangers trailed by a run and had runners at first and second with two out in the seventh inning and Ogando due to bat against left-handed St. Louis reliever Marc Rzepczynski. The game was on the line. So despite Ogando's 1-for-2 record as a batter during the season, this clearly was a situation for a pinch-hitter. But which one?
Washington had three right-handed hitters on the bench: Torrealba, German and Matt Treanor. Torrealba had 108 hits during the regular season plus four more in nine at-bats in the American League Championship Series. He was swinging the bat so well last week that Washington used him as a DH one game even though that left Texas without a backup catcher on the bench. The Rangers had also added Treanor to their World Series roster earlier in the day, so they were well-covered in the catching department. But Treanor is pretty much an emergency option since he barely played in the second half due to injury and didn't have a hit after the All-Star break.
German, meanwhile, had five hits in the majors this season and just 22 in the past three seasons combined. He last batted in a major league game 24 days ago.
So the obvious choice was to pinch-hit Torrealba. But Washington did not. He sent up German even though the player hadn't batted in nearly a month. Pinch hitting in a World Series game carries enough challenge and pressure if you've been playing regularly. It's much more difficult when you last batted so long ago it might have been recorded on Betamax.
Naturally, German struck out to end the inning. The Rangers never put another runner on base and lost by one run.
Washington explained his decision by saying that German is a contact hitter whom he thought had a better chance against Rzepczynski's off-speed stuff. "Can you guarantee me that if I used Torrealba he would have done anything different?'' Washington said. "I used the guy I thought could get me a base hit.''
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Washington made other moves and they made sense, even if they didn't all work out. Ogando had pretty much been lights out this postseason until he gave up the game-deciding hit to Allen Craig in relief of starter C.J. Wilson. These things happen.
But sending up a pinch-hitter who hasn't batted in almost four weeks instead of a player who had four hits in the ALCS last week is a mistake. German may be more of a contact hitter than Torrealba in general, but no one is a contact hitter when they haven't seen a pitch to make contact within a month.
"It's not an excuse,'' German said. "It's not difficult. Because in that situation you just have to make adjustments.''
German was just saying the right thing, but I disagree. Not playing for almost a month IS an excuse. And Washington shouldn't have put him in a position where it would come up.
As Washington said, there is no guarantee that Torrealba would have gotten a hit, or that the Rangers would have gone on to win. But one of the cardinal rules of managing is to put your players in the best position to succeed. Washington is a very good manager, but he disobeyed that rule when he put German in a situation where he was almost bound to fail.
The Rangers' lineup is so potent it hides a relatively weak bench. As the series goes forward, Washington must use it better.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Follow Jim Caple on Twitter: @jimcaple
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