Commentary

Bullpen innings adding up

After Game 3 blowout, Rangers desperately need Derek Holland to go deep in Game 4

Originally Published: October 23, 2011
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Come back, Dirk. Texas needs you. And Dubya, you should probably hang around after your ceremonial first pitch Sunday night as well. And for that matter, Nolan might want to start warming as well. After the Cardinals knocked the Saturday Night Lights out of the Rangers' pitching in Game 3 of the World Series, Texas might need every available arm for Game 4.

I mean, Nowitzki did show considerable improvement Saturday over the previous time he threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

"My last one in July was a little high," Nowitzki said. "This time they told me to throw a four-seam fastball. I still don't understand what that means. But I think that's the grip I had. Or was it a two-seam fastball? No, I forget. It worked out better than the last time. Last time everybody just told me don't throw it low, so I left it way high, and Michael Young almost pulled a hamstring trying to jump and get it. And this time I think he could stay in the stance and catch it. So it was better."

"Dirk had great rhythm with his pitch tonight, and it was downhill, which as a 7-foot-1 guy is extremely important," Texas starter C.J. Wilson said. "The ball was low. The first time it was high, and it was a noncompetitive pitch. But the way he threw it tonight, he got his fingers on top of it, the ball had good backspin and was down in the zone. It was kind of Ogando-ish, actually."

[+] EnlargeAlexi Ogando
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesAlexi Ogando had to throw 35 pitches to get one out in Game 3.

And that's part of the problem. Nowitzki was a little more Ogando-ish (or is it Ogando-esque?) than Alexi Ogando himself. The Texas reliever struck out St. Louis nemesis Allen Craig on Saturday, but that was the only batter he retired. Ogando allowed four runs, three hits and a home run in one-third of an inning, turning an 8-6 St. Louis lead into a 12-6 gap en route to the eventual 16-7 blowout.

Ogando was virtually unhittable during the division series and ALCS, but he gave up key run-scoring singles to Craig in Games 1 and 2 of the World Series, then got hammered in Game 3. Counting the 11 1/3 innings in the postseason, he's thrown 180 innings this year, more than he threw in his first five pro seasons combined. Could the innings be taking a toll?

"Possibly. He's thrown a lot," said teammate Mike Adams, one of the few Rangers relievers who didn't pitch Saturday. "You have to remember -- he was a starter in the season, and we rode him in the playoffs, too. We worked him a lot. Sometimes it catches up to you. And sometimes things just happen."

Of course, that reasoning could apply to the entire bullpen. The Rangers have only two quality starts this postseason, and in their 13 games, the starter has gone five innings or fewer eight times, including Game 3, when Matt Harrison lasted just 3 2/3 innings. The bullpen has saved the Rangers this month, but Saturday was a disaster for the relievers, who allowed 11 runs, nine hits, five walks and three home runs. The Texas 'pen has thrown 52 innings this postseason

"Innings add up," Adams said. "It's been a long season. Since spring training, it's been like nine months. That's a lot of pitches thrown. Yeah, it catches up to you. Did it have anything to do with tonight? Who knows? I can't know how those guys' arms felt tonight. I know I'm a little worn down myself, but we understand what's at stake. We go out there and give it our best and hope for the best."

The Cardinals 'pen also threw a lot of innings Saturday after starter Kyle Lohse retired only nine batters. But St. Louis is in better shape in that regard with an eight-man bullpen that includes Jake Westbrook, who is normally a starter and can eat innings if needed. Marc Rzepczynski and closer-without-title Jason Motte also have had two nights off.

Because the game got so far out of hand, Adams and Rangers closer Neftali Feliz didn't pitch Saturday, either, which is one of the few bright spots for the Texas bullpen. What it really needs is a strong start from Derek Holland and his mustache in Game 4. Holland has yet to pitch more than five innings in a game this postseason and lasted just 2 2/3 and 4 2/3 innings in his two ALCS starts.

Manager Ron Washington acknowledged Saturday's game made it more important for Holland to go deep into Game 3. "It's unfortunate that Harrison didn't get a better fate," he said. "We certainly expect Holland to go out there tomorrow and take us deep in the ballgame."

"As a starting pitcher, you always want to go way deep into a game and throw a shutout regardless of the situation," Wilson said. "You never sit there thinking, 'Eh, if I get through five, I'm OK.' You're never saying that to yourself. Never. Not in this locker room."

But do you sometimes say, "I really need to get to seven or eight"?

"Sometimes during the regular season I would think that, because our bullpen was taxed and we had lost a couple games," Wilson said. "I would think, 'I need to go out there and throw a shutout or go eight.' But it's the way you prepare anyway. I'm always a perfectionist. I'm always going to give it the same kind of effort. There's really nothing left. It's not like I can take a gun out there and shoot someone if they get a hit."

Well, it might be the only way to stop Albert Pujols. And it is Texas, after all. But it probably would just be better if Holland goes out there and gives his teammates at least as many innings as hairs in his mustache. Otherwise, the Rangers may have to look to Nowitzki.

Hey, it's not like he has anything better to do during the NBA lockout.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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