200 Miles From the Citi

July 8, 2010 2:00 PM

Predicting A Trend


The NFL is absolutely a copycat league.  If a coach or a team succeeds by trying something a little unorthodox (see: Wildcat formation), you'd better believe other teams will put it into their playbook.

Major League Baseball is a little more stubborn...or traditional, I guess.  It's harder to have a trend sweep up the entire league.

But I think Wednesday night featured two separate events that could find one another and change the way baseball is played.

In Tampa (or, I guess, the Tampa/St. Pete area):

Joe Maddon used starting pitcher Matt Garza to close out the Rays' win against the Red Sox.

Now, I know Maddon was not out to set a trend in this instance - there were a number of things working to create this situation:
-Maddon wanted to rest the two relievers who would be his first choices to close out the game (Rafael Soriano and Joaquin Benoit).
-Garza only threw three innings (84 pitches) in his previous start Monday.
-It was Garza's scheduled day for a side session, and 20 or so pitches wouldn't hurt.

But it reminds me of the Mets' 20-inning game with the Cardinals, when Mike Pelfrey came on to close out the game and earn a save.  That, too, came two days after his start, so it was a regularly scheduled side session.

I wonder if it wouldn't make sense for teams to make this a common practice.  I know they invest millions of dollars in pitchers...but there are easily not enough good closers to go around for all 30 teams.

So what if teams like the Orioles, who don't really have any pitchers and have worse luck with their closers, threw their starters in at the end of games every few days?  I know there would be some resistance with giving pitchers more innings...but in some ways wouldn't it strengthen pitchers' arms?  I know it's a long-shot idea...but I also know someone who isn't afraid to push the envelope, and might consider it because.....

In St. Louis (or, actually, Colorado):

Have you seen what's been happening with the Cardinals and Rockies?

In the first game of their series on Tuesday night, the Rockies overcame a 6-run, 9th inning deficit to beat the Cardinals 12-9.  Much of the damage came against closer Ryan Franklin.

Then, Wednesday night, the Cardinals took a 5-0 lead, then led 7-4 before the Rockies came all the way back with 3 in the eighth and another in the ninth to win the game.

Would Tony LaRussa's Cardinals have held on if Adam Wainwright threw a few pitches and put out the fire Tuesday night?  Who knows?  But if anyone is apt to try it it would be LaRussa...he would just need to claim it was his idea - like batting the pitcher in the 8th spot.

Other factors against my revolutionary idea include how tough it is for a starter to warm up and come in out of the bullpen (Garza gave up a hit and a walk before he got the necessary two outs), and off-days that change pitchers' scheduled side sessions.

I don't think we'll see anything immediately - but don't be surprised if it's the next evolution in the way managers use their pitchers.  Or, at least, if it happens every so often in a game that doesn't go 20 innings.

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