Sunday, April 11, 2010

Pleading the eighth

An interesting moment occurred in the Indians' chaotic 9-8 loss to the Tigers on Sunday. It involved some decision making by Indians manager Manny Acta and his bullpen.

In the eighth inning, with the Indians leading 8-4, and right-hander Joe Smith, who came in to get the last out of the seventh inning, the logical choice to stay in the game and pitch the eighth inning, Acta instead brought in left-hander Rafael Perez. Acta brought in Perez even though none of the next six batters due up for the Tigers were left-handed hitters.

Sure enough, Perez gave up three straight singles to the first three batters in the inning, all right-handers, and that led to a two run rally, and helped give the Tigers the momentum they took into the ninth inning, when they scored three more runs against a crumbling Chris Perez to win the game.

I asked Acta after the game why he didn't stick with Smith in the eighth inning and he basically said that he wanted to give Perez a trial as the eighth inning setup man. Chris Perez is normally the Indians' eighth inning setup man, but he's the closer now because Kerry Wood is hurt.

Acta's decision to take a winnable game and basically turn the eighth inning into an audition for Rafael Perez suggests that the manager, while obviously wanting to win, in this particular instance gave more priority to player evaluation than to winning. That's an interesting decision because it runs contrary to the team's party line in which club officials have stated that they are not ruling out contention in 2010. Acta didn't manage that way in the eighth inning.

Acta said he would have brought Smith in if the game was closer than a four-run margin. I don't agree with that. The Indians had a four-run lead, and needed to get six outs to get a win that would have meant a respectable 3-3 record on their season-opening trip to Chicago and Detroit. If the Indians really do think they can be contenders in 2010 they owe it to themselves to go for the win in situations like that. That is not the time to audition a pitcher for a key role.

If the team had openly said that they are using 2010 for player development and evaluation, then bringing Rafael Perez into the game there makes sense. But the Indians haven't said that, and therefore Acta - and this is just my opinion - shouldn't have done that.


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