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July 7, 2010

Digging into Samuel's late-inning pitching decisions

If interim Orioles manager Juan Samuel didn’t know it before Tuesday, he’s certainly well aware of it by now.

No manager’s decision gets criticized more than who should pitch in the late innings. That’s the nature of the managerial beast.

And since the Orioles were leading 4-1 heading into the eighth inning of an eventual 7-5, 11-inning loss to the Detroit Tigers, Samuel is going to get his share of second-guessing on this one.

Really, there was one move that could be questioned. With one out and a runner on third in the eighth, Samuel had both David Hernandez and Alfredo Simon warming and he chose Simon to get the difficult, five-out save.

It surprised me when he made that decision. Even in retrospect, I am not going to say it was the wrong one. I understand his reasoning. But it was surprising.

Here’s Samuel’s thinking:

“These wins are not coming in bunches. So we will do that when we have a chance to win the game; we have to go for it. So we thought Simon would be able to get us five outs.”

More Samuel on the decision: “There was no doubt [Simon] was the guy to go back out there [in the ninth], he just unfortunately hung a split-finger pitch to [Miguel] Cabrera.”

Simon got the last two outs of the eighth without incident. But in the ninth, he failed to hold a two-run lead, serving up Cabrera’s two-run homer that sent the game into extra innings.

Conventional wisdom – and I am sure the Wednesday-morning critics – would say that Samuel should have gone to Hernandez, the setup man, in the eighth. After all, he had allowed just three hits, no runs and struck out 11 in 5 2/3 innings over his past five appearances.

But Hernandez had faced eight batters and threw 33 pitches in the sweltering heat Monday. Simon, in contrast, didn’t pitch Monday and had tossed just nine pitches in July to that point. Samuel went with the rested arm. It didn’t work out, but I get that.

The other question was whether Hernandez should have been out there in the 11th after throwing a perfect 10th. Hernandez allowed a single to Austin Jackson, and then Johnny Damon ended it with a two-run homer to right.

But who else did Samuel have?

Frank Mata was the only available reliever left who did not pitch in Monday’s game. Mata has allowed nine runs in his past two outings. I don’t think Samuel had a choice there.

Here’s what Hernandez had to say about whether he was overextended in the 11th:

“I definitely wasn’t sharp. It’s going to happen. I mean, I am not going to say, ‘No,’ if they want me to pitch. I am going to go in there regardless if I have my best stuff or not.”

This was a tough loss to take, and the bullpen and Samuel surely will wear it. But, keep in mind, the Orioles’ offense stranded a season-high 17 base runners and was 3-for-17 with runners in scoring position. That was the real difference in the game.

One more thing about Samuel: He had no problem answering why he did what he did in the late innings. He also gave a vote of confidence to all three of his relievers – including Jason Berken in the eighth – who allowed two key runs during their second inning on the mound Tuesday. And that’s really what you want a manager, interim or otherwise, to do.

“You have to count on those guys, and they’ve been doing the job for us all year,” Samuel said. “And we are going to continue to throw them in those situations.”

Posted by Dan Connolly at 12:34 AM | | Comments (22)


Dan: regarding tonight's pitiful RISP performance as a continuation of the whole season: can someone calculate and publish the season RISP's for each player? It would be critical to know if there are specific hitters who are pulling down the team (Scott and Jones have been accused of this but I wonder if it is true).
Alternatively, if the whole team is doing poorly with RISP, it is a matter for the pitching coach to deal with: do the batters do something different, e.g., go for the long ball, when the pressure is on?.....Thanks.

Cyril- those numbers are readily available on a number of sites, including ESPN (go to MLB, teams, Orioles, stats, and under the drop down menu that says 'Split' select 'Scoring position). If you just want a brief summary, it's pretty much what you'd expect. Nick is hitting .343 with a .449 OBP Both Patterson and Lugo have been average (.286 and .270 respectively) but no other Orioles starter is hitting better than .250. As a team, they're hitting .233/.309/.309 with RISP, while opponents are hitting .298/.371/.479.

As for the bullpen questions...I never hesitate to criticize a manager for foolish in game decisions (and this year has provided plenty of fodder), but I can't argue with anything Samuel did. Remember there was a runner on 3rd with one out when Simon came in, so Samuel knew he had to get a strikeout. With Hernandez already tired, I'm sure he felt Simon was the most likely to generate a strikeout. I can't really argue with that.

I agree with Samuel's decisions.

It is about time these relievers, and starters for that matter, to "man up" when they're given the ball.

I have no problem with the moves. Samuel has handled the bullpen WAY better than Trembley since taking over.

samuals doesn't walk damon in ninth does he??? we would not have been having this discussion or would have used hernandez if simon would have not walked Damon and then cabrara's HR would have been solo. Wally Backman DAMMIT!

Let's quit criticizing or second guessing the manager for every pitching decision he makes. The O's have no relief pitchers that anyone can count on day in and day out. They are all questionable before they even enter the game. When a player is called upon to do his job and he doesn't do it, the problem is with him and not the manager. Put the blame where it belongs. I suppose that it is also Samuel's fault for the team leaving 17 men on base.

Samuel's pitching decisions were okay, under the circumstances. Except why was Frank Mata, who has been lousy lately, even available? I presume Samuel did not want to trust the game to a pitcher who has been ineffective. But if he manager does not have faith in the pitchers he has available, why have them available? Why not replace him with someone who might succeed? Troy Patton was been quite effective lately and worth taking a chance on. And he's on the 40-man roster. Gabino has done well at Norfolk, as has Sarfate. If you don't believe in your pitchers, don't keep them on the active roster!

I live near Detroit and was at the game last night. The O's, even though they had no errors, play sketchy defense-- that was clear. As an O's fan, it's hard to watch them hit with RISP.

Regarding the moves, I think it's tough to ask your closer to get 5 outs in the heat like that. Apparently, Simon wasn't up to the task, but at least the Tigers' best hitter was the one that beat us. That ball was hit a mile!

One thing that I found interesting with Simon's outing... In the 8th, he only used his 96+ fastball once. Everything else was mid to high 80s splitters, etc. I was watching the gun and waiting for his heat.

He brought the heat in the 9th, but mixed in his other stuff, as well. It was an interesting strategy. Clearly the Tigers were looking for heat in the 8th, so it worked. But the better hitters in the top of the order were able to figure it out.

Still, he's clearly got closer stuff.

I have no problems with the pitching moves. My biggest problem is that starting pitchers can't pitch 9 innings anymore. I'm not sure how the 1970 Orioles would have fared if Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar had to turn the ball over to the bullpen in the 7th inning every night.

Suggestion to the pseudo-commissioner - let's change baseball to a 7-inning game since apparently it's now physically impossible to throw over 100 pitches. Then we could see the game's best pitchers fighting it out in the final inning instead of all of the pitchers who couldn't quite crack a starting rotation.

96 pitches. Why not leave Jake in to see if he could close out the inning? Heck, why not? Compared to the alternatives in the used-up bullpen it may have been the best bet and helped Jake stretch himself.

After watching last night's usual bullpen debacle, I have come to the conclusion the Orioles just plain SUCK and are no longer worth my time and effort to cheer them on. I hardly ever watch the Birds on MASN anymore and they were the reason I got Direct TV in the first place. I watched Cheerleader Nation on Lifetime instead.

Juan Samuel is NO DIFFERENT from Dave Trembley - they both suck.

When the heck will the management of the Orioles ever have any confidence in their starters to complete a game?

There was absolutely no reason to lift Arietta last night; he had a good game going and the Orioles led the game. What more could you ask from a rookie pitcher?

No, instead sucky Samuel has to go to the bullpen because it's the 8th inning to set up for the closer. This is pure B.S. period.

Allow your starters to own the game for once and the Orioles just may win a few more games.

Going to the BS pen has cost the Orioles plenty of wins and until the Orioles get a quality MAJOR LEAGUE manager with MAJOR LEAGUE mentality that believes in his starting rotation, the Orioles will suck for a very long time.

The more important question for Juan Samuel was why, when you have a tired and overused bullpen, did you pull Jake Arrieta after only 96 pitches with a two run lead when he was in control of the game? [Same thing he did with Bergesen last Friday.] If Arrieta finishes the seventh and most if not all of the eighth, perhaps the Orioles can get by with only having to use one additional pitcher. The poor use of pitchers IS a primary reason for the overuse of the pen. Also, relying on 4 or 5 pitchers to be effective the same night to win a game has a very low probability of success. Last night was just the latest in a long line of situations where that doesn't work.....two guys were successful; two were not. Neither Juan Samuel or Dave Trembley ever got it.

Throw strikes to leadoff Damon!!!

I have no bones about the decision to bring in Simon to get the save. The issue, in my opinion, is that it was clear Simon did not have very good command of his pitches, especially during the Johnny Damon at bat in the top of the 9th - why was he left in when it was clear, to me at least, that he was struggling and the Tigers were bringing up a power hitter.

There should be simple rules for Oriole pitchers regarding the leadoff batters. I write this proposal out of frustration. Too many times, the Oriole pitchers walk the first batter, and, too many times, they score.

1. Rule One applies to all non-closers: walk the first batter and you are fined $1,000. Walk the second batter and you are fined $2,000 and will be relieved as soon as someone can get warmed up in the bullpen.

2. Rule 2: A second "closer" should be warming up in the 9th inning if a closer is to start the inning. If the closer on the mound walks the first batter, they should be fined $2,000 and be removed from the game.

It's not a revelation to say innings starting with walks usually don't end well. The pitchers need to know there are consequences to putting men on base to start an inning.

The money could go into a fund. At the end of the season, half would go to charity and half would go to the pitcher with the best success rate at getting the first batter out that they face in an inning.

I agree with the other posters here who want to know why he pulled Jake. What the O's need is a manager that doesn't over manage the game. Someone that doesn't have to prove he can manage. The wannabes we have had in recent years have been auditioning from day one. Bring in a proven major league manager, let him hire a major league coaching staff, of his choosing, let him manage the game without any front office interference and let's see what the results are. I'm betting that these guys will actually surprise a few people.

What? Oriole managers overmanaging? Samuel (and Trembley before him) complained that the starters were making him go to the bullpen too soon. But then he takes out a pitcher who is still effective (What's so magical about 100 pitches? Is that number chosen because it's "100"?0uses three pitchers?) and replaces him with three one-out-and-you're-gone relievers. In the Boston game Sunday, Samuel was changing pitchers when the Orioles were up by five in the eighth. Did this affect the Monday and Tuesday relievers? The young starters are pitching better than the old guys right now. Why not leave them in and let them continue to learn? I mean, face it, the Orioles are not going to make a run for the wild card this year...

While the results say he made poor decisions last night, his reasoning was sound because he was hoping not to use Hernandez last night. David has been better when not throwing on consecutive days and even though he got through the 10th, he didn't strike anyone out, thereby suggesting he didn't have his best stuff.

Unrelated to last night, Hernandez may eventually be a better closer than Simon but right now he doesn't seem ready for the final inning.

Overall samuel has been much better than Trembley at managing these situations and the pitchers have responded well. This happens sometimes - Rivera blew a save the other night and I would guess no one questioned Girardi.

Samuel ha

The team is terrible and Angelos does nothing about it. Camden Yards burns while Angelos fiddles.

Angelos does NOT fiddle, Scot from Gettysburg. HE DIDDLES!

GREAT idea, Jeff! Seriously, I do mean it -- count my vote in the movement to change the game to seven innings instead of nine. I LOVE baseball, but with 4 minutes of commercials between every half inning and woosie pitchers who can't throw 7 innings on a regular basis (come on, 3 runs in 6 innings and a 4.50 ERA is a "quality" start?), the 7-inning game is making a lot of sense, especially since no one has come up with a way to "speed up" the game.

I know purists will bemoan the loss of compatibility with the historical statistical records, but the steroid era has made those difficult enough already.

And I hate to admit it, but I am also now in favor of eliminating the DH! Since the O's have gotten so abominable to watch, I've expanded my fanship to following the Phillies, and while I don't care to watch most pitchers flailing away at the plate, a 7-inning game with a deeper bench (two less relievers on each staff, for sure) is likely to be a much more interesting game.

Sadly, there is virtually no chance of this ever happening -- just like no chance of calling the rulebook strike zone or using technology to provide TRUE balls & strikes calls. And so MLB will continue to diminish in comparison with other sports...

Changing managers from within
has only continued internal
practices. Complete manager
and coaching staff need new look. There is nothing new in last 5 years with management and getting worse without new look.don't teach new dogs old tricks.

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About the bloggers
A Baltimore native, Dan Connolly has been covering sports for 14 years, and baseball and the Orioles for 10 seasons, including the past six with The Sun. His first year covering baseball on a daily basis was Cal Ripken Jr.'s final season as a player. It's believed that is just a coincidence.

Steve Gould is an assistant sports editor for The Sun, overseeing Orioles coverage. The Columbia native joined The Sun as a sports copy editor in 2006 after graduating from the University of Maryland.

Peter Schmuck has been covering baseball for a lot longer than Steve Gould has been on this earth. He is now a general sports columnist, but has been a beat writer covering three major league teams (the Dodgers, Angels and Orioles) and also spent a decade as the Sun's national baseball writer. If you want more of his insight on the Orioles and other sports issues, check out his personal blog -- The Schmuck Stops Here.

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