By now you have seen another image of a Nationals pitcher being removed from a game and escorted off of the field with the medical staff. Within a month it has been a sight you have seen 5 times, and each time you hold your breath hoping it is minor. You hate to see when the trainer goes out to the mound, and that started with Joe Ross on July 9th and continued through last night. There was Stephen Strasburg’s arm issue exactly 2 weeks after Joe Ross, and then Enny Romero with back spasms then Max Scherzer on Tuesday night which was 2 weeks minus 2 days from Strasburg’s injury, and Enny Romero once again was pulled early from an appearance last night with an apparent injury and this time it was not back spasms.
In the 7th inning last night, Romero looked to be in pain, and we kind of hoped it was just back spasms again, but this time it is the dreaded forearm tightness. We will hope for the best for young Enny that it is nothing serious. He will almost certainly head to the disabled list.
On the disabled list, he will join fellow bullpen arms Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley and starters Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross. The list is getting long. We have seen Sammy Solis and Joe Blanton on the disabled list this year, and newcomer Sean Doolittle himself had a long stint on the DL with the Oakland A’s prior to his trade to the Nationals. Then there were the curious cases of relievers who disappeared while staying on the roster like Matt Albers who didn’t pitch between June 12th and June 20th after a 5-day period of throwing 63 pitches and a blown-save loss. The same thing happened to young Trevor Gott who threw 2 days in a row and 59 pitches and was shipped back to Syracuse in pain, and he eventually sat for 12 days and was not placed on the disabled list.
There are currently 112 pitchers on the disabled list. There are 30 pitchers who began the season on the disabled list and never threw a pitch this year. That’s an average of 1 pitcher per team, and team’s average currently 3.7 pitchers currently on the disabled list. If Enny Romero goes on the DL, the Nats will have 5 pitchers on the disabled list and will be above the MLB average and that assumes Max Scherzer is not added to the list.
Dusty Baker after the game said the team would probably bring back Sammy Solis to replace Enny Romero, but is it time to rethink this and bring in a long-man to help the bullpen from these long games when starters are pulled early? What about bringing back Erick Fedde and allow him to be the long-man and emergency spot starter?
The need for a long-man certainly exists and look no further than Matt Grace who has gone 1 2/3 innings or more a total of 7 times so far this year and keep in mind that Grace hasn’t been on the roster all season. In those 15 1/3 innings of long-relief, Grace has given up 10 runs of which 9 were earned runs for a 5.28 ERA. That is not good for a relief pitcher, but Grace is a 3.00 ERA in all other situations and that is sort of misleading as Grace has only had 3 games of the other 19 he has appeared in where he has given up a run. So why does Dusty Baker keep putting him in a role where he is continually failing instead of the role he was thriving in? Grace had saves in back-to-back games just a few weeks ago. He has been the Swiss Army knife of relief roles. Defined roles are great, but improvising to the situation has to be a part of it.
“These tactical errors can be frustrating to watch, as tenuous leads become deficits while the team’s best relievers are sitting in the bullpen waiting for ‘their’ inning,” Rob Arthur and Rian Watt wrote for the popular FiveThirtyEight.com.
It seems like Arthur and Watt must have watched Tuesday night’s game as a Nationals’ 6-run lead was seemingly given away because Matt Grace was pushed past his comfort zone once again.
“Logic and hard-won experience have shown that a team’s best relievers should pitch during the most important junctures of a game, regardless of when those moments occur,” Arthur and Watt continued. “It’s a philosophy that saber-savvy analysts inside and outside the game have been pushing for some time now. And despite their occasional lapses in judgment, it appears that managers across the league, in addition to deploying some of the best bullpens ever in an absolute sense, are getting much better at optimally deploying their relievers according to skill, regardless of their age or experience.”
This issue of thriving in roles versus failing in roles has been an issue all season with the Nationals. It started as the season was a few days old when Blake Treinen began the season as the closer and failed. The bullpen never seemed to be righted until Koda Glover took over then he was injured and really wasn’t replaced until the Nationals traded for Sean Doolittle who has been 4-for-4 in save opportunities. The Nationals just traded on Monday for All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler who looked spectacular last night striking out Ichiro Suzuki and Giancarlo Stanton while retiring the disruptive Dee Gordon and Christian Yelich.
The Chicago Cubs made a similar move to the Nationals and added another closer to their bullpen in Justin Wilson on Monday. That gives the Cubs the same eight-man bullpen as the Nationals with similar balance with left-handers Justin Wilson, Brian Duensing and Mike Montgomery and right-handers Carl Edwards, Jr., Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, Koji Uehara and closer Wade Davis. Their manager Joe Maddon often speaks to roles and his ability to use Mike Montgomery as their long-man, and Brian Duensing has appeared 10-times for 1 2/3 innings or more and has been successful only giving up 3 runs for a 1.35 ERA. Contrast that with Matt Grace, and you quickly can see the difference in the results.
The Nationals will face the Cubs this weekend, and we can see how the Cubs will manage their bullpen. Maddon was excellent last year with his starting rotation where he held 4-of-his-5 starters to less than 200 innings, but relied more on his bullpen. It is certainly a balancing act.
“Look at those 8 [bullpen arms] right now. They’re all good names,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “In my mind’s eye the best way to go about this is to not abuse anybody, to spread out the work as much as possible.”
Yes, easy to say, harder to do. The best laid plans of mice and men, but you must start with a plan. The Nationals may want to get Dusty Baker a legitimate long-man, you think?