Monday, June 5, 2017

The bullpen and facing Pujols

It worked, but I really didn't like very much about how Paul Molitor handled the Twins bullpen in the eighth inning Sunday.

Jose Berrios gave the Twins six innings and got a 3-2 lead to the seventh inning. Tyler Duffey entered and threw a 1-2-3 inning, turning the Angels lineup over.

Duffey has frequently worked two innings at a time, and I expected that to be the case again Sunday. But those two-inning outings are generally the sixth and seventh, not seventh and eighth, and the Angels had left-handed hitting Kole Calhoun leading off the eighth and another left-handed hitter, Luis Valbuena, scheduled third.

So Molitor brought in Taylor Rogers, his favored lefty reliever. I didn't care for this move, in part because Calhoun had already homered off Rogers (and off fellow lefty Adalberto Mejia) in the series, and in part because Duffey is just a better pitcher than Rogers.

But Molitor went for the platoon advantage. Rogers fell behind Calhoun and walked him. Then Rogers got Yunel Escobar to ground into a force out.

And here came Albert Pujols to pinch hit for Valbuena. And Molitor went to the pen for Matt Belisle.

Again, I didn't care for this move. The basic truth is, Pujols in 2017 should not scare an opposing manager. I know that's sacrilegious, but as I said in the Monday print column, Pujols at age 37 is a shadow of his greatness. And he is doing almost nothing against left-handers (slash line vs. southpaws .186/.255/.302).

Rogers hasn't allowed a homer to a righty this year. Belisle is averaging a home run allowed every six innings. If you looked for the matchup in the Twins bullpen most favorable to Pujols, Belisle is probably the pick. I wouldn't have had Rogers in the game to start with, but once in I wouldn't have pulled him for anybody by Brandon Kintzler.

So, naturally, Pujols hit the second pitch he saw on the ground to third for an easy double play (he has bad feet and can't run).  Kintzler got the ninth and did his thing, and the Twins won.

As I view that inning, Molitor steadily deceased the competence of the pitcher and worked unfavorable matchups. He used four relievers in the game, and the two best relievers faced the weakest hitters, while the two weakest bullpenners faced the middle of the Angels lineup (with Mike Trout injured, that's not saying much, but Calhoun/Escobar/Valbuena/Pujols are still better than the other stiffs).

I didn't like any of it. But it worked.

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