By Steve Kallas
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Once upon a time, a closer (Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage come to mind) would come in with two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh inning. He’d strike out the batter in dramatic fashion, shut down the opposition for the next two innings, and “save” the game for the winners.
But that was then, this is now. Today, we have closers who can’t come in with men on base (they don’t “like” it). We have “eighth inning” guys. Heck, we now have “seventh inning” guys. We also have guys who don’t like to pitch in a “non-save” situation.
We may not like it. Heck, we may not even be able to understand it (what’s the real difference between pitching when you are up 3-0 and pitching when you are up 4-0?). But if it matters in the mind of a relief pitcher, well, then it’s irrelevant what anybody (other than the manager and that pitcher) thinks about the situation.
WHICH BRINGS US TO RAFAEL SORIANO
You didn’t have to be a baseball expert to know what the Yankees were getting in Rafael Soriano. A tremendous, but quirky, relief pitcher, reports out of Tampa last year (before the Yankees signed Soriano to a closer contract to be one of those “eighth inning” guys) were that Soriano didn’t like to pitch in non-save situations, didn’t like to come into a game with men on base, etc.
But his numbers were hard to ignore: 3-2 with 45 saves, a 1.73 ERA and a 0.802 WHIP. Plus, he was (and is) incredible insurance for the 40+ Mariano Rivera.
But, at 31, it’s going to be hard to have Soriano change his mental make-up when it comes to pitching in non-save situations.
WHAT HAPPENED AGAINST MINNESOTA?
You probably know the situation. On Tuesday, April 5, C.C. Sabathia was cruising along with a 4-0 lead and a two-hitter though seven (104 pitches) against the Twins. Joe Girardi decided to take Sabathia out. He would bring in David Robertson, right? Wrong.
He decided to bring in his “eighth inning” guy, Soriano. The results, of course, were disastrous – a hit, three (count them, three) walks, two outs and Soriano exited with the Yankees still holding a 4-1 lead. Girardi brings in Robertson, who gives up a bloop, three-run double.
The Yankees go on to lose, 5-4 in extra innings.
HERE COME THE CRITICS
The criticisms were two-fold: either (1) Girardi should have left Sabathia in; or (2) Girard should have brought Robertson (or someone other than Soriano) into the game since it wasn’t a save situation.
While it’s early in the season, Sabathia is the one Yankee pitcher you might have left in the game. In fact, last night, against Boston, he threw 118 pitches under much more dire circumstances – Sabathia was in trouble virtually every inning against the arch-rival Red Sox as opposed to cruising along on a Tuesday against the Twins. Some experts will tell you it’s as much about the pressure of the pitches (much greater in the Red Sox game) as it is about the number itself.
But, if anything, Girardi erred on the side of caution by taking Sabathia out.
The bigger mistake was bringing Soriano, rather than Robertson (or somebody else), into the game.
Soriano, who bolted the clubhouse after the game without speaking to the media, obviously has to learn to deal with these issues in New York (you’re not in Kansas (oops, I mean Tampa Bay) anymore). Girardi, for his part, went with the “he’s my eighth-inning guy” in response to questions. But nobody asked him if, up 4-0 in the ninth, he would have gone to his “ninth inning” guy, Mariano (of course he wouldn’t have, unless Mariano needed the work).
But there is no reason to put Soriano in a situation he doesn’t like to be in. Already getting acclimated to pitching the eighth, as opposed to the ninth, inning, why put the guy in a situation he doesn’t want to be in? Whatever you may think of Billy Wagner, when he was in a Mets uniform he often talked about how difficult it was for him to pitch in a non-save situation. Even the great Mariano’s numbers aren’t as good in non-save situations (including tie games) as in save situations.
WHICH BRINGS US TO SATURDAY AGAINST THE RED SOX
The Yankees are up 9-4 against the Red Sox this past Saturday. If Soriano is your “eighth inning” guy, should he have been in up five runs? Well, apparently not, as Luis Ayala came in to pitch both the eighth and the ninth inning as the Yankees won, 9-4.
Interesting, no? Has Joe Girardi learned his lesson, that is, don’t put a quirky guy like Soriano in the game in a non-save situation? Or is it that, with a four-run lead, you put your “eighth inning” guy in the game but, if the lead is five, you don’t?
Well, that remains to be seen, but the Yankees have already lost one game, in part, by using a guy in a slot that he has never liked to be used in – not a good sign.
Hopefully, now, Girardi understands this and will not put Soriano in a bad position (in Soriano’s mind), no matter how ridiculous we may think that is.
The Yankees have already lost one game, in part, because of it.
There’s no reason to lose another.
What do you think? When should the Yankees use Soriano?