The Cleveland Indians should let the situation dictate who pitches in the ninth inning. After John Axford was demoted yesterday stemming from allowing five earned runs in his last three innings, the Tribe have yet to announce his temporary replacement. The idea behind this move is to give Axford innings in low-pressure situations to regain his form in the early goings of 2014. Cleveland is situated perfectly to learn how much they would benefit from leaving the ninth inning open ended.
Manager Terry Francona, along with the rest of baseball’s elites, succumbs to deeming one player capable of the esteemed duties to finish the final three outs. These baseball relics follow the blueprint of what is expected to be done instead of ways to illicit progress. Managers playing close to these philosophies contradict their own proclamations of how the game should be strategically handled. This brand of uncalculated decision-making comes off as lazy and teams suffer for it.
Once the starting pitchers are relieved anywhere past the middle innings, the lefty-righty matchups are exercised religiously, verifying a managers competence of creating favorable matchups that offer the best chance to record an out. This logic is entirely disregarded when it comes to the ninth inning, almost as if these closers are immortal to the opposite-handedness, especially the ordinary ones such as Axford.
There is no denying a number of baseball’s finest relievers deemed closers have coexisted with the label, profiting from much success. Closers like Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, and more recently Koji Uehara of the Boston Red Sox, relish in the last inning. What has made these closers successful are Rivera’s cutter, Hoffman’s array of three pitches and Uehara’s splitter — not their “clutchness” — but their overwhelming talent that routinely outlasts good hitting.
In theory, closers are suppose to be the most reliable relievers; what makes John Axford fit for this responsibility? The blueprint of what makes a good closer should only include one feature and that’s getting outs on a consistent basis. Not an overpowering fastball, not a killer intro song or long hair cascading down a closers neck. Too many times we see managers blindly throw their closer into the fire when they don’t belong pitching on short rest or in a matchup they aren’t fit for.
If David Ortiz is due up in the ninth, left-handed Marc Rzepczynski should be put in if available, not the underachieving Axford as Big Papi has gone 0-for-5 versus Scrabble. I’ll take Cody Allen or Bryan Shaw against Miguel Cabrera, who has hit .167 and .200 against the two righties instead of Axford who has never faced the reigning MVP. When Joe Mauer comes to town, Axford won’t be the guy facing him in the ninth letting up three hits in six at-bats to the first baseman.
When did baseball begin to make arbitrary prerequisites for closing in the ninth? Just ask Joe Borowski, Kerry Wood and Chris Perez. So there’s no Jose Mesa in the Indians’ bullpen, that’s fine. What they do have is depth and pitchers with varying skill-sets to take care of the prized inning. It’s time to do away with the closer and avoid letting the Tribe’s best arms rot away on the bench.