One task that a manager has to tackle that most people overlook is handling a bullpen. Some men at the helm keep their pitcher in no matter the matchup for one inning, while others meticulously bring a pitcher based on who is at the plate. The issue with the second method is that quickly the bullpen is depleted of arms. Having one reliever face just one lefty and then exit the game eats up an arm that could be used in a critical period later on in the game. There are critics and supporters of each method. One manager who embraces this method is Chicago White Sox skipper Robin Ventura.
Throughout his two plus years at the helm for the White Sox, Ventura’s biggest detractors point to his use of the bullpen as the reason why he does not make a quality manager. Last season, throughout the 99-loss season, Ventura himself would cost games by trying to strategically play to the matchup. Countless times Ventura would eat up his bullpen by bringing in each reliever to face one batter and then bring in another. This would result in the Sox having to go with a long man in extra innings because quite frankly that was their only option.
Playing to the matchup is beneficial in the game of baseball. Last season when Ventura would bring in Matt Thornton to face Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz and only Ortiz, that would make sense due to Big Papi’s career .231 average against the former White Sox reliever. Still, there would be numerous times when he would bring Thornton to face Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer, despite his .303 lifetime average against him. Fans were ready to sweep this flaw in Ventura’s managerial tactics underneath the rug. If the team started winning in 2014 during what was labeled a rebuilding season, attention would be drawn away.
The White Sox jumped to an impressive 8-6 record to begin the season entering Wednesday evening. While the bullpen cost the team a large amount of games, fans still gave Ventura a chance to finally master the craft of managing relievers. Then on Wednesday night Ventura made visible that he still is handicapped by his “play to the matchup” philosophy.
After John Danks threw six stellar innings, Ventura turned to the bullpen to keep the team afloat. After Ronald Belisario pitched a hitless seventh, Ventura brought in Scott Downs who did what he has done all season, failed to get out his assigned lefty. Then long reliever Jake Petricka came in and could not punch out his one batter. Then Donnie Veal and Maikel Cleto were both used in roles not usually designated for them, and they could barely get out of the inning. Matt Lindstrom tossed two innings and Daniel Webb was forced to throw three, most likely shutting them down for today’s game. Utility man Leury Garcia was thrown to the wolves as he had to pitch in the 14th inning and pick up the loss.
The Sox lost the game last night for a whole host of reasons, one of them being that they had to have a position player pitch the 14th. Yes the game took five innings longer than usual, but that doesn’t mean that, with the game on the line, a guy who is not paid to pitch should pitch. If Ventura did not waste four pitchers in just one inning, he could have used at least one to pitch into the wee hours of the night. Why use a long reliever in Jake Petricka for one batter? There is managing and then there is over managing. Ventura continues to over manage when it comes to the bullpen and losses follow. It is now time for the third-year skipper to abandon his approach of handling relievers and go a different direction. If the Sox want to compete for the entire 162-game slate, he must do it quickly.
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