Off-beat strategies: Handling pitchers on bad-weather days
MAY 15, 2014 2:35p ET
Throughout the 2014 season, FOX Sports South writer Jay Clemons will explore some of baseball's more notable off-beat strategies. Leading off: Handling pitching staffs on days/nights when rain delays are certain to occur.
Amazingly, the starters for both teams -- Ervin Santana (Braves) and Jeff Samardzija (Cubs) -- resumed pitching after the nasty weather passed through Atlanta. It was a potentially dicey move for a pair of right-handers who could have been susceptible to arm or shoulder injuries, given the lengthy waits between mound appearances.
This whole sequence got me thinking: Would Atlanta skipper Fredi Gonzalez ever consider starting a relief pitcher for games that are 95-percent likely to incur a long rain delay?
"Yes, I have," admitted Gonzalez, a major league manager for eight seasons (four with the Marlins, four with the Braves). "You flirt with the idea, you talk about it (with your coaches)."
Thinking and acting upon this random strategy are different experiences, though, cautions Gonzalez.
"When I was in Florida, it was every night: 'Is it going to rain? Is it not going to rain?' wondered Gonzalez, who only knows the Deep South region as an MLB manager (at least intimately). "You talk about that kind of stuff ... but it never materializes like you think."
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For an April 2011 Reds-Cardinals game in St. Louis, then-Cards manager Tony La Russa "started" reliever Miguel Batista on a night when severe thunderstorms pounded Missouri.
But Cincy skipper Dusty Baker didn't follow the same rationale, immediately handing the ball to regular starter Edinson Volquez.
Well, Batista, the Cards' starter, only threw a handful of pitches before the bad weather arrived, prompting a two-hour, 10-minute delay. He didn't take the mound after the rain subsided.
Volquez, in turn, went through the standard warmup routine leading up to his start ... only to be shelved for the night, once the full impact of the rain delay was realized.
In essence, it was a wasted evening for both Batista and Volquez, despite the different approaches from the skippers.
Baker had a humorous and insightful response to that night back in April 2011.
"I've seen (news) reports where (weather experts) had everyone delay and it didn't rain for three hours and the sun came out -- especially in the Midwest," said Baker.
"(There are) no mountains, there's no nothing (in Missouri). This weather can be going north, and then the other day, it came back west and next thing I know, it's going east. I wouldn't want to be a weather man around here, because it's tough."
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With natural starters David Hale (1-0, 1.65 ERA, 1.16 WHIP) and Alex Wood (3-5. 3.26 ERA, 52/9 K-BB rate) currently part of the Braves' bullpen, Gonzalez -- who had a six-year career in the minors with the Yankees (1982-87) -- may finally have enough depth and talent to tinker with the prospect of "starting" relievers before a long rain delay.
And yet, the Braves skipper has reservations about breaking tradition -- especially with Senior Circuit matchups.
"I don't think it ever works out the way you want it to, and then your starter only goes three innings, because it's a National League game. ... In the American League, you can play with your (pitching choices) a little bit more because you don't have to pinch-hit.
"But all of a sudden, your reliever gives up two runs, and you bring in your (regular) starter after the rain delay, and you've got to pinch-hit in the 6th ... because you're down a couple runs."
On the flip side, some baseball experts theorize that if an 11-man staff essentially shared the responsibilities for a given year -- with each hurler contributing roughly four innings every three days -- you'd have a full group with 160 innings or less ... with the majority of pitchers entering games in leveraged situations (hitters less familiar with pitchers, reasonably close score, etc.).
Within that rationale, a pitcher would almost never face a hitter three times in a single game -- the time when hitters typically get the upper hand on their counterparts.
And within the scope of a starting pitcher entering the game in the 3rd inning ... his initial batters would most likely hail from the bottom third of a hitting lineup.
The ultimate confidence builder.