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.”