Saving Lee for Game 5 is the right move

The Rangers are making the right call starting right-hander Tommy Hunter in Game 4 of the World Series rather than lefty Cliff Lee on three days rest.

Frankly, the decision is not even close.

I’m tired of hearing that pitchers somehow lack toughness if they do not work on short rest.

I’m tired of hearing pitchers of yesteryear described as the standard when routines were different then and the postseason consisted of one round instead of three.

Finally, I’m tired of hearing these discussions center solely around individual pitchers such as Lee when using them on short rest often disrupts the other members of the rotation, too.

The Rangers, after beating the Giants on Saturday night, 4-2, trail the World Series, two games to one. Manager Ron Washington said afterward that he never wavered on starting Hunter in Game 4.

But before the game, he told the FOX broadcasters that he might ask Lee to pitch on short rest if the Rangers fell behind, three games to none.

“I’ll do whatever the hell I’ve got to do,” Washington said.

Why not take the same approach now?

Because the Rangers will not be eliminated without Lee making another start. He will pitch Game 5 on normal rest, perhaps even with a chance to give the Rangers the lead.

On the other hand, pitching Lee in Game 4 would have meant that in a seven-game Series, the Rangers’ final four starters — Lee, lefty C.J. Wilson, righty Colby Lewis and Lee again — all would have gone on short rest. Unless, of course, Washington wanted to start Hunter over Wilson or Lewis, which would have been insane.

How do you think the three-days-rest merry-go-round would have turned out?

From 2007 to ’09, nine pitchers started on short rest in their postseason, according to STATS LLC.

Their combined ERA: 7.13.

Now, at worst, the Rangers will trail three games to one with their three best starters lined up on normal rest. And I’m hardly convinced that they will lose behind Hunter on Sunday night.

True, Hunter failed to last more than four innings in his first two postseason starts against the Rays and Yankees. The Giants, though, are more right-handed than either of those clubs, particularly if manager Bruce Bochy sticks with Pat Burrell (0-for-9, eight strikeouts) in left field.

“I think Tommy’s got a good matchup,” Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux said. “Tommy is equally effective against righties and lefties. If he goes out and pitches his game, I like the matchup. An aggressive pitcher against aggressive hitters.”

Left-handed hitters actually had a .765 OPS against Hunter in the regular season while the righties were at .708.

Does Maddux simply believe that Hunter can prey on the Giants’ aggression with his assortment of pitches?

“I like Tommy,” Maddux said, without elaborating further.

If Hunter falters, the Rangers again will back him up with lefty Derek Holland, the 23-year-old who threw 12 of his 13 pitches for balls in Game 2. Holland showed considerable poise in dealing with the media afterward; he will not be afraid of the moment. And don’t forget, it’s quite possible that the Rangers will provide their pitchers with margin for error.

The Giants’ Game 4 starter, rookie Madison Bumgarner, is left-handed. The Rangers’ only loss in six games against left-handed starters this postseason was to the Yankees’ CC Sabathia — and CC was hardly dominant, allowing 11 hits in six innings.

When you put it all together, there is simply no compelling reason to start Lee on three days rest for the first time in his career.

Lee, mind you, is not unwilling to make such a sacrifice. His agent, Darek Braunecker, scoffs at critics who imply that Lee is soft, saying, “Anybody who says that about him has absolutely no idea who the guy is.”

Washington, in his pre-game meeting with FOX, said much the same thing.

The Rangers faced the same decision on Lee in the Division Series, when they were leading the Rays, two games to one. Using Lee on short rest then would have enabled the Texas to A) potentially close out the series at home and B) make Lee available for Game 1 of the ALCS on normal rest.

Sure enough, the Rangers lost Game 4 of the Divisional Series behind Hunter, but Lee was brilliant on normal rest in Game 5 at Tropicana Field, clinching the series with a six-hit complete game in which he struck out 11 and walked none.

The ALCS worked out OK, too, even with Lee unavailable until Game 3. The Rangers beat the Yankees in six games, needing Lee only for the one start.

Some pitchers, notably Sabathia and the Phillies’ Roy Halladay, have enjoyed reasonable success on short rest. But both of their clubs used a fourth starter in the LCS, in part because of the cumulative workloads for each pitcher.

Like it or not, the game is different now.

I’m tired of hearing all this macho talk about how teams should ask elite pitchers to suck it up for their teams by pitching on short rest. The idea backfires more often than not, leaving clubs in an even worse position.

I don’t care how Tommy Hunter ultimately pitches Sunday night.

The Rangers are doing the right thing.

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