Joe Maddon has made some curious decisions over this past week. Meanwhile, as R.J. pointed out earlier, his decision making in terms of today’s bullpen usage was commendable. With nine outs needed to complete a three-game, road sweep of an American League East rival, the Rays’ skipper kept the ball in the hands of his most trusted relievers.
A quick seventh inning (six pitches) by Joel Peralta allowed Maddon to use his setup man for longer than one inning. With the off day tomorrow, this may have been the plan even if Peralta had used 12-15 pitches in the seventh. El Campeon quickly dispatched two Orioles in the bottom of the eighth inning before allowing a single to Matt Wieters.
Nobody would have question Maddon had he left Peralta in to face the right-handed bat of Mark Reynolds Mark Reynolds. Instead, Maddon lifted Peralta in favor of his “non-closer” Kyle Farnsworth in the eighth inning. When asked why he has not given Farnsworth the title of closer, Maddon mentioned he did not want to limit Farnsworth to just the ninth inning. This was one of those situations.
Though Reynolds is a right-handed batter, he is a masher. Meanwhile, Peralta is a flyball pitcher and Camden Yards is a hitter friendly ballpark. In addition to mashing, Reynolds is also a hacker; especially on sliders. In fact, this was mentioned in the very first “Process Versus” post. Peralta works mainly off his fastball, curveball, and splitter. Farnsworth, on the other hand, has a fastball, slider, and a cutter that moves similary to a slider. Farnsworth’s slider seemed like a key element in the thought process.
With Reynolds representing the tying run, Farnsworth started the at-bat with a cut-fastball outside of the zone. He followed that up with a high slider that Reynolds whiffed on. The next two pitches by Farnsworth hit 98 MPH on the pitch f/x gun. Reynolds took a hack at the first heater and missed, falling behind the count 1-2. He would lay off the next fastball to even the count.
With two strikes in the count, Farnsworth went for the punchout. He threw a slider on the outside corner that narrowly missed a call third strike. On the sixth – and final – pitch of the at-bat, Farns doubled up with the slider. This one was more enticing to Reynolds as it caught more of the plate. Luckily for the Rays, Farnsworth was able to locate it low in the strike zone and out of the reach of Reynonds for the third whiff of the sequence. The strikeout ended the threat, and Farnsworth went on to complete the four-out save with a scoreless ninth.
Maddon isn’t the only manager who will employ the four (or more) out save. However, we have seen a couple of instances from managers around the league who simply refuse to bring in their “closer” before the ninth inning even if the game hangs in the balance. With out titles, Maddon does not have to stroke egos (I’m unsure he bring Rafael Soriano in the same situation last year, but he did have Joaquin Benoit and Grant Balfour) and is free to use his relievers as needed.
The work of B.J. Upton at the plate had the most impact in terms of win probability, but the decision to go to Farnsworth goes down as one of the underrated game-changing moments so far.