The Indians lost another tough one last night to the Rochester Red Wings. For the third straight game the Indians had taken a lead into the 7th inning only to see that lead slip away for the second time in three games. The first time, the Tribe blew a save Tuesday night when Chris Bootcheck gave up three 9th inning runs in a 6-5 loss. Losses like that can happen and hopefully Bootcheck will bounce back tonight in a save situation. Last night’s loss was a little different. The bullpen did give it up when Denny Bautista served up a three run home run in the 7th inning to David Winfree. That swing put the Red Wings on top and two of the three runs were charged to starter Virgil Vasquez. I didn’t agree with the decision to lift Virgil in the 7th. I have not had the chance to talk with the skipper or pitching coach and plan on doing so this afternoon and I’m looking forward to hearing their explanation. In the meantime I want to share with you why I didn’t want to see him pulled. I really believe Virgil was pulled because of his pitch count. Like I said it may have been for other reasons (to see how Bautista pitches in a pressure situation, Virgil was told he would leave before the 100 pitch mark, etc.), but I wanted to see him get out of the 7th inning jam.
Let’s set this up. Virgil entered the 7th inning having thrown 78 pitches and only 17 of those with runners on base. So of the 78 total pitches…61 were from the wind up and that tells me he was in a stress free pitching environment. His fastball was at a 90 mph and he had established his curveball so he was not showing any signs of fatigue. (Again, maybe there is more to it and he put on a brave face, but was tiring) The Indians open the 7th leading 3-1 when the lead off batter hits a bloop over second base. The next batter fouls off two consecutive 1-2 pitches before tripling to center field. Now the lead is just one and the tying run is at 3B. Virgil is now at 86 pitches when the next batter steps up. Virg strikes him out on five pitches. With one out and the trying run at third, the Indians elect to pitch to the #6 hitter and Virg walked him on 6 pitches. Now they’re runners on first and third with only one out and the Indians righty has thrown 97 pitches, 19 in the 7th inning. That is when Frank Kremblas went to the mound and called on Bautista who struck out the next batter before giving up the game changing three run homer. I’m not blaming Bautista, like Tuesday night, those things can happen and give the Wings hitters credit. What I wanted to see was Virgil pitch through that inning. Give him the opportunity to get a double play ball and get out of the inning leading 3-2. If he gives up a hit and the game is tied, then dip into the bullpen, but don’t let pitch counts determine when he is done.
What happens if Virgil gets a shot in Pittsburgh? The Pirates have already let a couple of their pitchers work 120+ pitches (Zack Duke April 13th and Ian Snell April 29th) because their manager John Russell said they were stress free outings and the pitch count didn’t matter. I’m not saying Virgil need to go beyond 110, but it appeared he had a relatively stress free 6 innings until the 7th. More on the Pirates starters…Paul Maholm, Ian Snell, and Zach Duke have topped 100 pitches in 10 of their combined 21 starts. Ross Ohlendorf and Jeff Karstens have not topped 100 pitches in any of their combined 13 starts and have yet to be lifted in the middle of an inning. (Correction…Ohlendorf was lifted after facing one batter in the 7th inning April 26th. Ohlendorf gave up a home run and pitched 6+ innings. Thanks to Cory Humes for bringing this to my attention.) So maybe they are being watched closer than the other three starters. Back to Virgil, what does he gain by leaving the game with his runs on base? What can he gain by getting out of the jam and exiting with the lead or a tie game? Eventually a starting pitcher needs to get out of a late jam.
After the game Virgil was upset he walked the last man he faced more than being pulled. He said that he shouldn’t have walked that guy and that left a bad taste in his mouth. When I talked to him it was nearly an hour after the game and I’m sure his emotions were different than when he walked off the mound. In the end it’s on the bullpen to get the job done, but that was a moment when the Indians starter could have made some strides. If your starters are allowed to throw 100 pitches, then let them throw 100 pitches. He took you that far, now let’s see if he has what it takes to make the right pitch at the right time in a stressful situation.
11:30 PM UPDATE:
The Indianapolis Indians were a winner tonight thanks to 7 shutout innings from the bullpen. Jeremy Powell pitched four scoreless inning of long relief with Brian Slocum working the last 3 innings to earn his first save of the season. How about this…the Indians had three, three inning saves on this road trip. It’s rare to find one three inning save and the Indians earned three over their past seven games.
Prior to the game I had a chance to talk with Tribe pitching coach Ray Searage about the decision to pull Virgil Vasquez Thursday night. The decision was completely based on the pitch count. The Pirates have strict rules and the Indians staff must follow those rules. After Vasquez walked his final batter the Indians needed the pen to do the job and Bautista blew the save. As of today, all of the Indians starting pitchers have a max pitch count of 100. Regardless of the situation you will be pulled when you close in on 100 pitches. I think it stinks, but rules are rules and you have to obey. Remember the goal is to get these players ready for the Bigs.
Here is a bonus picture:
That is Rochester 2B Alexi Casilla bouncing a baseball on the barrel of his bat. Casilla says his best is 240 bounces and he does the whole Tiger Woods thing by bouncing the ball between his legs and around his back. He just catches the ball at the end instead of hammering the ball like Tiger.