Wednesday night in San Francisco, Mike Matheny did not manage orthodoxly. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Matheny summoned esteemed LOOGY Randy Choate from the bullpen. Unless I missed something, it had been more than a full decade since Choate had appeared in any sort of major-league game before the fifth inning.
The latest example of Mathenaging occurred Wednesday night in Game 4 of the National League championship series at AT&T Park during the Cardinals’ costly 6-4 loss to the Giants.
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After the Cardinals broke away for an early 4-1 lead in this critical game, Matheny stood in the dugout and watched starting pitcher Shelby Miller give just about all of it back. Pitch by agonizing pitch.
There was no justification for Matheny’s patience. Miller was across-the-board ineffective. Of the first 15 Giants to face Miller, seven reached base and several others were retired on sizzling, hard-contact outs. Miller had virtually nothing going for him against the Giants.
First, let me get this out of the way: A pitcher’s recent performance doesn’t tell us much about his future performance. A pitcher who gives up two home runs in the first inning isn’t particularly likely to give up another in the second. Last time I checked, anyway. We saw a tremendous example of this Tuesday, when John Lackey gave up four runs in the first inning … and then just one hit over the next five innings.
On the other hand, Miller did work hard in the third inning of Game 4, throwing 30 pitches. That’s sort of the baseline, 30 pitches. And so many of those pitches were high-leverage pitches, too. The last came with two runners aboard, when Brandon Belt lifted a fly to fairly deep center field. You really couldn’t have blamed Matheny for worrying, and it seems clear that he was worried … because in the fourth inning, Matheny had Choate warming up.
But Miller came back out, even though two left-handed hitters were coming up. Miller got one of them, walked the next, struck out a pitcher, and only then was Choate summoned to face another left-handed hitter (Gregor Blanco). Whom Choate, somewhat unaccountably, walked. He did retire Joe Panik to escape the inning.
So while you might have quibbled with Miller’s appearance in the fourth inning, it didn’t hurt the Cardinals. The damage had been done in the third, and Miklasz thought Matheny – even though Miller had thrown only 19 pitches entering the third, including a couple of quick strikeouts – should have had Miller on a very short leash in that inning.
Shelby Miller didn’t actually pitch well this season, was fortunate to finish with a 3.74 ERA. But I think if you’re willing to start him in Game 4 of a Championship Series, you may be excused for hoping he can escape a spot of trouble in the third inning.
What Miklasz really wanted to see was Michael Wacha … whom, like Miller exactly one year ago, has essentially disappeared. More Miklasz:
Bochy had a long reliever, Yusmeiro Petit, ready to roll when needed. And Petit gave the Giants three key shutout innings in Game 4, keeping the Giants close after they whittled the Cards’ lead to one.
Which raises the question: Why are the Cardinals willingly competing in a high-stakes series with a short pitching staff? That’s what’s gone down in the aftermath of their decision to carry Michael Wacha.
Wacha hasn’t been used in the postseason.
Not one pitch.
This is careless roster construction.
Late Wednesday, Matheny said he may use Wacha if needed in Game 5. And Matheny expressed confidence in Wacha being sharp. And yet Matheny wouldn’t use Wacha with Game 4 on the line and the Cardinals in position to tie the series 2-2.
So why didn’t Matheny use Wacha in Game 4 to bridge the gap and usher the middle innings to the late innings? Matheny said he had to keep Wacha in reserve in case of extra innings.
Let’s see if I have this straight: the manager didn’t want to use Wacha to help quell an emergency early in Game 4 because he wanted him to be available for an extra-innings competition that may or may not happen? Why not try and put the bonfire out immediately instead of gasping over far-away contingencies?
It’s funny, we had EXACTLY these discussions about Miller last year. Remember? And once again I’m squarely on Miklasz’s side here: If you’re unwilling to use a pitcher in a key situation, why keep him on the roster? Sure, every so often you do need a long man, whether because you’re getting blown out early or because the game goes real long.
But how often do those things happen? Especially compared to those times when you’re in the middle of a close game and every run seems like it might determine the outcome of your entire season?
If Michael Wacha’s healthy, you might argue that he should be starting these games instead of Shelby Miller. If Wacha’s healthy, you can certainly argue that his manager should be finding times for him to pitch. And if he’s not healthy, he doesn’t belong on the roster.