People who complain about three true outcome baseball should have to watch Wednesday’s Mets-Orioles game on a loop. Think walks, strikeouts and home runs are boring? Try watching a never-ending supply of groundouts and lazy fly balls. Oh well, to each his own. But as yawnstipating as yesterday’s game was, it did have one moment of strategy. Well, it should have been strategy but instead it was a bet the mortgage moment.
Here’s the situation – Zack Wheeler was pitching perhaps his finest game as a professional that didn’t happen against the Marlins. He had pitched seven scoreless innings and had retired 10 of the last 11 batters he faced, with the only guy reaching base coming on a hit batter. He was in complete command of the game.
In the bottom of the seventh, his turn to bat came up with two outs and two runners on base. Kevin Plawecki hit a two-out double and Adrian Gonzalez was issued the abracadabra walk to bring Wheeler up. In a moment that you don’t get with the designated hitter, the manager faced a dilemma. Should he look to capitalize on this rare scoring chance or should he keep in the pitcher that the other team couldn’t touch?
Other information that should factor into the decision: Wheeler was at 93 pitches and the Mets’ bullpen, while rested thanks to Monday’s day off, has been bad for about a month. Also, Wheeler was 1-2 in the game and was hitting .286 on the season.
At this moment in time, either choice was defensible. Wheeler had thrown 103, 106 and 110 pitches in his last three outings and the idea that he could surpass 100 pitches was certainly reasonable, especially on a day when he was cruising. On the other hand, the Mets’ offense has been horrendous and opportunities with two men on base here lately are about as rare as seeing a yellow cardinal.
The problem was not that manager Mickey Callaway opted for the pinch hitter. The problem is that the idea of sending Wheeler out for the eighth inning likely was never given a moment’s thought. Callaway’s M.O. is to look for reasons to take his starting pitcher out. And that was one thing when the bullpen was pitching over its head early in the season. It’s another matter entirely when going to the bullpen has been the equivalent of eating jalapenos to quench your thirst.
Decisions are made with the 100-pitch bogeyman always in the front of the mind. But what should be used as a starting point is instead used as a door closer. Wheeler threw 93 pitches and was able to give more. But Callaway went in the other direction because he decided he was going to win the game with offense and the bullpen. Even though those have been the weak points of the club for a while now. It just doesn’t make sense to me.
Pinch hitter Jose Bautista kept the inning alive with a walk. But Amed Rosario struck out to end the inning. Callaway opted to use closer Jeurys Familia in the eighth inning in a non-save situation and he ended up giving up a scratch run. In the Game Chatter, I called it an insurmountable 1-0 lead. The Mets put the leadoff runner on base in both the eighth and ninth innings but were unable to even advance him to second in either frame.
The Mets held the Orioles to three runs in the two-game series and ended up losing both contests. Clearly, pitching isn’t the problem at this moment, although we might be singing a different tune following the weekend series with the Yankees.
Right now, the Mets have to ride their starters as long as they can and aim to always have at least one of Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo and Anthony Swarzak available to pitch. Maximize the innings from that group and if you have to sacrifice offense to keep those guys in the game, well, that’s a pill you just have to swallow.
Maybe when the veterans start hitting, we can change the game plan. But that’s just it – you’ve got to manage with an idea of what’s going to win for you at that point in time. You have to understand that it’s not one solution solves all for an entire season. Earlier in the year the relievers were great and the starters were lousy so it made sense to go to the pen. But that’s no longer the case.
We need flexibility in the dugout and instead we get more paint by numbers managing. Sure, we’ve gone from pictures with one color – say red – for chasing the platoon advantage whenever possible, especially with lefty relievers, to another color – say blue – for reflexively pinch-hitting for the starter whenever it makes the tiniest bit of sense. It would just be nice at the end of the day to see something that wasn’t so monochromatic.