As it neared 1:45 a.m. earlier this morning and the Yanks and A’s continued to slog through their West Coast walk-fest, Joe Girardi brought in Damaso Marte to protect a four-run lead in the 9th. It wasn’t a save situation and wouldn’t be unless Marte imploded. At the time, the Yanks’ win expectancy stood at 98.2 percent, but that wasn’t good enough for the Yanks’ skipper.
Marte began the inning in an inauspicious fashion. Facing the right-handed Jake Fox, a career .245/.298/.443 hitter who had but one base on balls this season, Marte issued a five-pitch walk. The Yanks’ win expectancy dropped all the way to 95.8, and Joe Girardi bounded out of the dugout to summon Mariano Rivera. While the strains of “Enter Sandman” played in my head, Rivera jogged in to get three easy outs in a non-save situation. Game, set, match.
Yet, something about the way the game ended irked me. It wasn’t so much Marte’s unwillingness to throw strikes to a guy who can’t hit much as it was the quick hook. Girardi brought in a lefty to face a righty — not always the best of match-ups — and then pulled him with the game still in the pocket. Rivera had to both warm up and make his league-leading seventh appearance of the young season in a game the Yanks were going to win. Why bother with the quick hook? Why bother bringing in Marte in the first place?
For Girardi, though, this approach to the bullpen is nothing new. In fact, last week against the Angels, Girardi went through a similar sequence of events. He used Joba Chamberlain to get the last out in the 8th on Thursday, but then Joba ran into a spot of trouble in the 9th. After a walk and two outs, Erick Aybar hit a weak infield single, and the Angels had the tying run at the plate with two outs. Instead of letting Joba pitch to Bobby Abreu, Girardi brought in Rivera for a quick one-out save. Because Abreu is a lefty power bat, that move was more defensible, but it still seemed as though Joe overmanaged a bit.
In the early goings, my complaints over Mariano Rivera’s usage are but a nitpick. Rivera has appeared in a team-high seven games and has allowed two hits and a walk while striking out six. He needs to get some work in, and Girardi has made sure of it.
At the same time, I’d like to see Girardi trust his other relievers a bit more. Marte has appeared in six games and has recorded eight outs while facing just 12 batters. I don’t want to see him walk a weak-hitting pinch hitter to start the inning, but I wouldn’t mind giving him another batter or two.
Overall, though, Girardi has done a good job of managing the bullpen this year. His 33 calls to the pen – — all brought to you by AT&T — rank last in the AL and are a testament to the Yanks’ solid starting pitching (and one six-inning game). On average, Yanks’ relievers are raking up 3.1 outs per appearance, just a tad below the AL average of 3.2 and well within the early-season margin of error for that statistic. Hopefully, these positive trends will continue, but it wouldn’t kill Girarid to let his guys pitch out of a tough spot when the game isn’t really on the line.