Monday, May 14, 2018

Second-guessing the use of Zach Duke

The Twins lost Sunday 2-1. They didn't necessarily have to -- Ehire Adrianza did a sloppy job of running the bases and got thown out at the plate with the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth, after which Paul Molitor made the truly curious decision to have Zach Duke pitch against a series of right-handed hitters.

Chris Young (HBP on an 0-2 count), Martin Maldonado (sac bunt), Zack Cozart (RBI single). Game over. And had the game been alive after Cozart's hit, Mike Trout and Justin Upton were the next two hitters.

Duke has now pitched 13.1 innings this season, in which he's walked 10 and hit three. That's a lot of free baserunners. More to the point of second-guessing Paul Molitor's choice of Duke to pitch in a high-leverage situation against a string of right-handed bats, his OPS allowed is more than twice as high against righties as lefties.

Yeah, it's an extremely small sample size, but it is backed up with career numbers. Duke has always been better against lefties and since his move to the bullpen, his managers -- and there have been a lot of them for the veteran-- have treated him as a specialist. But Molitor has the notion that Duke has the stuff to thrive against righties, and he's gotten burned a couple of times that way.

To be sure, Molitor's preferred right-handed options -- Trevor Hildenberger and Addison Reed -- were probably unavailable. Hildenberger had pitched the previous three days, and Reed pitched two innings on Saturday.

And I don't blame Molitor for deciding to stay away from Phil Hughes. I don't know if Hughes is the bullpen is going to work, but we've seen nothing so far to make a manager eager to put a game in his hands.

But why not try Matt Magill? Magill has pitched nine innings since his call up and allowed one run. He's right-handed, and he has avoided so far the major failing of his previous major league experiences, walks. I would much rather pit Magill's stuff against the Cozart-Trout-Upton string of All-Star right-handed bats than Duke's.

The closest game Magill has pitched in was Friday's; he worked the eighth with the Twins down a pair and got the win when they scored three in the top of the ninth. Other than that, he's pitched with leads of more than four runs and deficits of three or more. He never even warmed up in Saturday's extra-inning affair; Hughes would have pitched the 12th had the Twins not taken the lead.

As with Hildenberger last year, it's understandable for Molitor to be cautious with him. But the "Greg McMichael Rule" -- if you get outs, they'll find a role for you -- suggests that Magill should soon get some more meaningful innings.

Had Adrianza scored on Robbie Grossman's double -- and he should have -- Molitor would have gone with Fernando Rodney in the bottom of the inning instead of Duke, and this rant never gets written. So Adrianza deserves the criticism he's getting elsewhere. But I firmly believe Duke shouldn't have been near the mound that inning.

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