Hi again. The Mariners are in first place, which is fun. I think we're all fairly excited about it. I don't intend to make like a flock of geese in a freshly mowed municpal ball field and go poopin' everywhere but I did want to draw some attention to a few of Scott Servais' moves last night that may be worth revisiting, and thus pondering going forward. Let's take a gander shall we?
Joel Peralta pitching the 8th
I am at risk of belaboring this point, and so I will try not to repeat myself too much, but Joel Peralta is maybe this team's fifth or sixth best reliever at this point. He's a fabulous guy by all accounts, a wonderful, tough competitor, who has carved out a major league career to be proud of, but he simply does not belong as a high leverage reliever on a team with dreams of playoff baseball.
Last night, in a two run game, he was nonetheless used as a high leverage reliever. It's not a new trend. Last Friday he was tasked with getting out Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Kole Calhoun in a 2-2 game in the 9th inning. In the first home stand of the season he gave up multiple lead-surrendering home runs. He simple has not shown the stuff or ability to regularly get out quality major league hitters this year.
Nonetheless there he was, facing Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa. Even worse, after Altuve grounded out Springer and Correa's back to back hits cut a two run lead in half, with a speedy runner on first, and the left-handed Colby Rasmus, fresh off winning American League Player of the Week, at bat.
Starting the eighth with Peralta was a minor sin, but allowing him to face Rasmus in that situation is, from my view, nothing short of a catastrophic strategic decision by Scott Servais. Clearly the plan and hope was to use Peralta's splitter to try and coax a double play ground ball out of Rasmus, but with the left-handed Mike Montgomery ready and rested in the bullpen the trade off of a slightly higher chance of a double play versus letting a fringy-stuff right-handed reliever pitch to a left-handed power hitter is simply not equitable.
Now, the Mariners have seen more than their fair share of bad process/bad result, they've even seen a large amount of good process/bad result, so perhaps it was simply time luck did them a favor. With a 3-2 count Peralta again went to the split, but badly missed his spot. It hung, right over the middle of the plate. Rasmus just didn't swing:
I wrote yesterday that with Joaquin Benoit on the DL the Mariners may have to suffer a few weeks of Peralta in the set up role before management acquiesced to the idea of Zych and Montgomery as something akin to the Rhodes/Nelson tandem of glory years past. They dodged a bullet yesterday, but I maintain that the pain is still coming. Sooner, rather than later.
Nelson Cruz in right field in the ninth
This one feels obvious, and the kind of thing that a manager with zero management experience could just miss in a close, late game while making dozens of other tactical decisions and considerations on the fly. It's certainly possible that Seth Smith's groin is limiting him in the field, and it's definitely possible that Franklin Gutierrez's Ankylosing Spondylitis simply kept him from playing yesterday, even an inning of defense. However, I didn't see that comment or explanation come from anyone last night. Please let me know if I missed it.
Assuming one or both of Smith/Gutierrez were available there is simply no reason for Nelson Cruz to play defense in the 9th inning of a game the Mariners are winning, ever. It almost got them yesterday too, when Preston Tucker's two-out line drive was badly misplayed by Cruz and allowed the inning to continue. If Jose Altuve hadn't mercifully gotten chopped off at the hands by a Steve Cishek fastball we could be very, very sad today. It's an easy move to make, and one I hope Servais remembers to make without fail going forward.
Scott Servais is a rookie manager, not just at the big league level, but to managing as a whole. Every game is going to be filled with situations and decisions he will have never faced before in a real life scenario. He may have prepared diligently, he may have a great mind for the game, he may be an excellent communicator and leader for the 2016 Mariners, but he is going to make mistakes as he learns the ins and outs of strategy and game flow.
It feels inevitable that that learning process will cost the Mariners a win or two. Last night it almost did. Here's hoping the lessons stuck anyway.