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A couple of bullpen decisions proved costly


A couple of bullpen decisions proved costly
Random thoughts from Baseball's opening week, and wishing everyone a Happy Easter:

Two head-scratching bullpen decisions cost teams games on Tuesday.

In Toronto, Detroit entered the bottom of the eighth with a 3-0 lead against the Blue Jays , who then mounted a rally and pulled to within 3-1 with two on and two outs. At this point, Tigers manager Jim Leyland brought in right-hander Brandon Lyon to face Toronto second baseman Aaron Hill. Back story: Over the winter, the Tigers signed Lyon to a one-year, $4 million contract to be the team's closer, but he pitched so poorly during the spring that Leyland demoted Lyon to the setup role and anointed Fernando Rodney as the Detroit closer. This, the first high-leverage situation of the Tigers' season, cried out for a four-out save by the closer. Instead, Leyland brought in Lyon, who promptly allowed a three-homer to Hill. After Detroit tied the game in the top of the ninth, the Blue Jays won the game in the bottom half on a sacrifice fly by Rod Barajas ... off of Lyon.

In Chicago, Kansas City starter Gil Meche pitched seven strong innings against the White Sox, then Royals manager Trey Hillman entrusted the eighth inning to setup man Kyle Farnsworth, who got into trouble, allowing two baserunners, but the situation was salvageable. There were two outs and the left-handed hitting Jim Thome was at the plate. Hillman was faced with three choices - bring in lefty Ron Mahay, who was warming up in the bullpen; bring in closer Joakim Soria, who was warming up in the bullpen; or stay with Farnsworth, who has had a career-long penchant for giving up home runs in key spots. Hillman chose the least attractive decision, with predictable results. Farnsworth fell behind 2-0, then threw a middle-of-the-plate fastball that Thome launched toward Lake Michigan. Final score: White Sox 4, Royals 2.

Back in my college days in Milwaukee, Cecil Cooper was one of the stars of a rising young Brewers team, so I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Coop. Now the manager in Houston, Cooper has made a tactical blunder that could cost him his job if he doesn't come to his senses. The decision to sign an over-the-hill Ivan Rodriguez isn't Cooper's fault, the blame there lies with general manager Ed Wade. But the choice to bat Rodriguez in the No. 2 hole is all Cooper's doing, and it makes no sense. At that spot in the order, at the very least you want a batter with a high on-base percentage, and in two of the past four seasons, Pudge's OBP has been below .300. You also want a batter who is willing to take pitches, ostensibly to allow your leadoff man (who we assume has speed) to have a chance to steal. But over Pudge's 18-year career, he has drawn more than 40 bases on balls just twice which leads one to believe working the count isn't in part of the Rodriguez modus operandi. Also working against Rodriguez is the fact that he is a groundball hitter - his three highest groundball/flyball ratios have come in the past three seasons - with no speed. Last year, Pudge hit into double plays in over 20 percent of those opportunities.

From 2000-03, the Oakland Athletics made the playoffs in all four seasons, and the team was built around the pitching of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. At the beginning of that four-year run, Hudson was 24 years old, Mulder 22 and Zito 21. The A's are trying to catch that old magic in the same way, as all five members of this year's starting rotation are 25 years old or younger. Dallas Braden and Dana Eveland are 25, Josh Outman is 24, and Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill are 21. Entering the season, the quintet had combined to make 63 major-league starts - 35 by Eveland, 24 by Braden, four by Outman. According to our friends at the Elias Sports Bureau, the last major-league team to begin a season with five starters younger than 26 was the 1978 Milwaukee Brewers, whose rotation consisted of Jerry Augustine, Moore Haas, Andy Replogle, Lary Sorensen and Randy Stein. The Brewers won 93 games that year, although Replogle and Stein were soon relegated to the bullpen.

Florida third baseman Emilio Bonifacio's inside-the-park homer against Washington on Monday was the first on Opening Day since Boston's Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1968.

Many people think the problem with Arizona is its offense, and the "O" is a problem because the lineup is stacked with too many high-strikeout, low-OBP hitters. The bigger concern, though, for the Diamondbacks is that their infield defense - Mark Reynolds at third, Felipe Lopez at second and Tony Clark at first - is atrocious. Only shortstop Steven Drew is a competent major-league defender. For a groundball-throwing staff, poor infield defense is a nightmare.

Seattle right-hander Felix Hernandez turned 23 on Wednesday, and he just might be the best-kept secret in Baseball. It's worth it to have the Extra Innings package just to be able to watch every one of his starts.

Writers are supposed to be able to come up with words, but words are hard to find after the tragic death of Angels right-hander Nick Adenhart. He was on top of the world after pitching six shutout innings in his first start of the season against Oakland Wednesday night. I watched that game on television, and as Adenhart was pitching started to read about him in Baseball America's Prospect Handbook 2009, where he was rated as the Angels organization's top talent. It said that Adenhart was a three-pitch pitcher (fastball, curve, change) and all three were quality. He ran into problems last year because he fell behind in the count too often and became predictable. In addition, he had trouble throwing his curveball for strikes and the pitch lacked consistent depth. During Wednesday's game, those problems were rectified, as he was consistently ahead of the Athletics batters and had all three pitches working at major-league quality. Adenhart looked just like a young pitcher looks when he's ready to blossom. Two hours later, he was dead. It's all so senseless.

Beginning Wednesday and continuing throughout the Baseball season, a midweek edition of Diamond Reflections will appear in The Times.

Contact Rick Freeman at DiamondReflections@hotmail.com


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 12, 2009

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