Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Last night's game was ugly, as you know. (Richard has the good on the series with his series summary at the Pearly Gates.) Washburn hung in there through five-and-third, surviving a tough first couple of innings and some shady defense. (Vlad let one ball drop right in front of him in the sixth, and I have no idea why he couldn't/didn't catch it.)

The game underlined how much we miss Brendan Donnelly right now. Check out this passage from Mike DiGiovanna's Times account of the game:

"Had Donnelly been available, Weber might not have been in the game. Scioscia probably would have used Francisco Rodriguez, who limited left-handers to a .185 average last season, and Donnelly, who held lefties to a .199 average, to cover the sixth, seventh and eighth innings and closer Troy Percival in the ninth."

Bullpen use is of course controversial, but consider this scenario: Rodriguez pitches the sixth and seventh, Weber covers the eighth (as the Angels continue to score and expand their lead), and Percy locks down the ninth.

Bullpen usage has "evolved" to the point where the best pitchers are saved for later, leaving the lesser pitchers to face crucial situations early in the game. This makes sense, sort of; a one-run lead in the ninth deserves more attention than a one-run lead in the sixth, because in the sixth you have more time to come back (which the Lads nearly did last night). But, when you think about it, if you have more time to catch up after the sixth, that also means you have more time to increase your lead, and thus render your ace relievers relatively useless.

Current bullpen usage means that your best pitchers may not even enter the game. Do you know how many innings Troy Percival has thrown this year?


K-Rod has three-and-a-third, where Weber has four-and-two-thirds. (Gregg and Shields have a bit more, thanks to blowouts.) Ben Weber has more innings than Percy and Rodriguez combined. Weber has faced 24 batters, while Percy has faced three and Rodriguez 12. Isn't there something wrong with that?

I don't mean to get down on Scioscia, who has done exceedingly well with his bullpen since he took the reins. Also, Weber is a good pitcher, who has shown the ability to work out of jams; it just didn't work out last night, and we certainly don't know that K-Rod would have been better.

But it did underscore that the loss of Donnelly is key, as adding him to K-Rod and Percy means that you basically have three aces in the bullpen, whom you can mix and match to your heart's content. And if the starting pitching stays like this, we're going to need all the bullpen help we can get.

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