In Rick Renteria’s first game as manager of the Chicago Cubs everything went well until one fateful decision likely cost his team the game.
Starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija was cruising through the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ lineup, having walked just two batters with five hits allowed in seven innings of work. Samardzija was working on a shutout and had thrown just 89 pitches, but for some odd reason there was a new pitcher on the mound to start the eighth inning.
Pedro Strop replaced Samardzija, and while he was brilliant in his one inning of work, there was no reason for Renteria to go to his pen so early. Especially not in a scoreless game in which the Cubs had already forced the Pirates to go to their bullpen due to starter Francisco Liriano’s pitch count of 104.
In a scoreless game, Renteria had to know that a battle of the bullpens was not going to end in the Cubs’ favor against the Pirates. As a team the Pirates had a 2.89 bullpen ERA last year, which was third best in baseball. While Strop, Justin Grimm and James Russell combined to throw two scoreless innings, the Cubs would have been better off using them in extra innings.
By going to the bullpen early, the Cubs were forced to bring in Carlos Villanueva who was set to be the fifth starter in the rotation. Villaneuva came on in the tenth inning and promptly surrendered a walk-off home run to Neil Walker.
With Samardzija hitting 97 on the radar gun and having thrown just 89 pitches while shutting out the Pirates, he should have been allowed to reach the 100 pitch mark at a bare minimum. Managers in the modern age of baseball have become conservative to a fault when it comes to pitch counts, and through one game Renteria is proving to be no different.