Bullpen Usage. There has been talk on message boards and blogs about Terry Francona's recent bullpen use. He'd have to go a long way to piss me off the way the previous two Boston managers did, but there have been legitimate questions about his decisions in the last two games.
Sunday: Derek Lowe struggled throughout this entire start, never retiring more than 4 consecutive batters. The game was tied 2-2 when Kansas City batted in the top of the 6th inning. Lowe had thrown 84 pitches. Randa singled to left and Guiel sacrificed him to second. Santiago lined out to center. So far, so good. ... Lowe then walked the #8 and #9 hitters (Relaford and DeJesus) to load the bases. Berroa reached on an infield single to third and a run scored. The Royals led 3-2 and the bases remained loaded.
Following along online, I have no idea when the Red Sox bullpen got active. Even watching on TV, it is often hard to pinpoint stuff like this. Several fans wanted Lowe pulled after the two walks, but it's entirely possible (even likely) that whoever was warming up was not ready. Even after the first walk, there was no huge urgency to get the pen up. But DeJesus walked on only five pitches. I'm guessing, but Francona may have had no other choice (i.e., he couldn't stall long enough) and had to have Lowe face Berroa (who had grounded out twice and struck out to that point).
Francona made his move after Berroa's hit. Berroa singled on the first pitch, so any reliever didn't gain much extra warm-up time. ... Mark Malaska came in to pitch. He fell behind Beltran 3-0, fought back to a full count, but then surrendered a bases-clearing double that gave Kansas City a 6-2 lead. ... Each team scored single runs in the 8th and 9th innings and Boston lost 8-4.
Why Malaska? The following pitchers were in the pen:
Curt Schilling had pitched a complete game the previous day and Timlin was the only reliever to have worked on Friday (1 inning, 8 pitches), so everyone was available. Francona has his pick of the pen. ... I don't know if anyone else besides Malaska was getting ready, but it's clear that he was the worst choice (or the 2nd least-reliable choice (after DiNardo)).
The 6th inning was not too early to bring in a stopper to cool the rally and keep the score at 3-2. Lowe was nearing 100 pitches and had battled all day. The pen was completely rested. And the Beltran at-bat was clearly the most important moment in the game. That was obvious, not only in hindsight, but as it was happening. Francona should not have relied on his worst option to put out the fire.
Monday: Not as serious as Sunday's mistake, but it irked me. Keith Foulke pitched the top of the 8th inning and retired Crisp, Lawton and Vizquel on 8 pitches. Boston trailed 9-6. Foulke should have pitched the 9th inning as well, but Francona brought in Malaska, who gave up a double and an rbi-single on his first six pitches. Obviously, the Red Sox did not come back -- or even mount a decent rally -- but why not stay with the better pitcher and keep the game as close as possible?
Was it merely to show faith in Malaska and get him "back on the horse"? I hope not. Certainly, Francona's decision to boot Kim out of the rotation flies in the face of that theory. Bringing Arroyo back to the #5 spot shows me that winning games is paramount, more important than keeping everyone happy.
Francona's use of the pen this season has been quite good. I have questioned some of his moves, but then learned the following morning that so-and-so was under the weather or otherwise unable to pitch. Taking a second look at the situations, his decisions often made a lot more sense. But his use of Malaska on Sunday and Monday is baffling.
Pedro faces off against CC Sabathia tonight at 7:05.