It’s interesting to see how managers react to different game situations on a night-to-night basis, particularly when certain trends become evident. Even if you don’t necessarily agree with their decisions, consistency from a manager shows that, at minimum, he has a strong belief in the thinking behind his choices.
Last night, though, Joe Girardi made what I’d call an inconsistent decision. After bringing Mariano Rivera into the game in the eighth inning and the score 5-3, Girardi opted to leave his closer in for the ninth despite the Yankees turning the game into a rout with a six-run bottom of the inning. One night earlier, in an almost identical situation – this time the Yanks were up one and CC Sabathia was ready to go back out, only to see the Yankees score seven runs in the bottom of the seventh – Girardi pulled his ace.
So, the question begs: If he did it with his best starter, why not with his best reliever? Especially one who may or may not be 100 % healthy?
To be fair, Girardi did ask Rivera how he felt and even though Mariano would never say he didn’t want to pitch, there are times when he intimates that. For example, a few days ago when Andy Pettitte was starting, Girardi went up to Rivera before the game and asked if he was available that night; Rivera, who had pitched three innings in the previous two games, didn’t say no but he did say, “Andy’s starting,” as if Pettitte was going to pitch so well Rivera wouldn’t be needed. That non-answer was enough for Girardi to know he was going to use someone else to finish the game that night and he did (getting Phil Coke his first save).
All the same, I still think sending Rivera out last night for the ninth was the wrong choice. Was it a disastrous decision? Hardly. Is it a huge deal? Not particularly. But pitchers can be thrown off by the slightest of events, and the long layoff while the Yankees were at-bat isn’t something Rivera is used to sitting through before pitching. Remember what Brian Bruney said earlier this week? That something as small as the lengthy replay review of Jorge Posada’s home run may have played a role in his injury. Back on April 19, the umps took 8 1/2 minutes to figure out whether Posada’s seventh-inning homer should stand, meaning Bruney kept warming up the entire time. Looking back now, Bruney thinks all those extra pitches – plus the standing around – may have been part of what sent him to the DL.
I’m not saying that’s going to happen to Rivera. Fourteen pitches, which is what he ended up throwing in the game, isn’t a ton. But once the Yankees had the game in hand, there wasn’t much use in having Rivera return to the mound after a long cooling-off period. It’s not something he’s used to and, given his age and health situation, the best thing for him is to keep his work confined to familiar situtations as much as possible.