The New York Mets made an unorthodox decision during Thursday afternoon’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. They lifted starting pitcher Dillon Gee after seven innings of work. He had surrendered only three hits, he hadn’t walked any batters, and he struck out three. That in itself isn’t terribly unusual — pitchers with similar lines have been replaced. The odd part about this decision was that Gee had only thrown 72 pitches.
All major league teams will let their starting pitchers throw about 100 pitches before yanking them, and they rarely pull them before they reach the 100-pitch mark, especially if they’re pitching well. So, why did manager Terry Collins make this decision?
Earlier in the game, Gee collided with the D-Backs’ Gerardo Parra while covering second base. But Dillon showed no signs of injury, and none were reported after the game. Injury wasn’t the reason, but recent history, combined with his performance in the seventh inning, were.
Gee gave up three hard-hit balls in the seventh, including a double to straight-away center field by Paul Goldschmidt that would have been out of most other MLB ballparks. However, even that was only part of the reason Collins decided to go to his bullpen.
In his first three starts of the year, Gee has shown a propensity to fade in the late innings, no matter what his pitch count. In his first start, Gee was strong and efficient through six innings, allowing two runs on two hits on only 77 pitches. In the seventh, the threw 23 pitches, giving up two runs, two hits and one walk. In his second start, Gee cruised through seven, allowing a run on four hits on 91 pitches (24 of which came in the fifth inning). In the eighth, he allowed two runs on two hits. In his last start, he threw 79 pitches in five innings, then allowed a walk, two hits and two runs in the sixth. See the pattern?
Collins decided to nip the problem in the bud in Gee’s fourth start. Seven shutout innings and 72 pitches match the pattern set by Gee’s previous starts well enough, combined with how hard he was hit in the seventh. It was still a risk — if the bullpen blew the 3-0 lead they had at the time, the second-guessers would have been out in force. Then again, if he kept Gee in and he melted down, the second-guessers would have criticized him for not going to the bullpen. As it turned out, Collins pushed the right button, despite the back-to-back home runs allowed by closer Jose Valverde in the ninth. Fortunately, the Mets had added a couple of insurance runs, thereby saving Mets fans from a collective coronary.
Gee showed a similar pattern of late-inning trouble last year. The reason is, Gee relies on deception. He throws his fastball in the high-80s, and relies on his plus changeup, and occasionally-dazzling slider. The third time through the order, the opposition isn’t as likely to be deceived. That’s why Collins made the right move on Thursday, and will continue to micromanage Gee late in games.