Charlie Manuel Reuters

When it comes to bullpen use in Philly, the tail wags the dog

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Twice this past week we’ve watched the Phillies lose in walkoff fashion while their best relief pitcher, Jonathan Papelbon, sat on the bench.  It’s maddening, really, but that’s what has passed for conventional bullpen usage in this day and age: you do not use your closer in a tie game on the road.

Why?  Nothing to be saved! And the closer is there to save games! Never mind that by, you know, not allowing game-ending hits, a game is likewise saved. There’s no statistic called a “save” for that situation, you see, so it doesn’t count.

That’s not an exaggeration. Charlie Manuel, asked about that policy, put it in pretty stark terms last night:

“I’m not supposed to use him … I don’t get a chance to use him. We’re not supposed to use him. We’re not going to burn him out early in the season when we can’t get to him … We never do that.  It’s just not the way it is. Papelbon is in the ninth inning for a save. When we ever have a lead, when we start the ninth inning, he’s gonna save.”

“Can’t get to him?”  “We’re not supposed to use him?”  I’ve never seen such a clear instance of the tail wagging the dog.  It’s your team, Cholly!  You can do anything you want!

I don’t mean to pick on Manuel here, because just about every manager does this.  As Matt Gelb notes in his story from last night, it has become almost unheard of for managers to deploy their closer in anything other than save situations. The teams who get great bullpen work overall get it because they have some awesome relief pitcher who, by accident of seniority and contract, is not officially the team’s closer. Ryan Madson in Philly last year. David Robertson in New York pre-Mariano injury. Jonny Venters in Atlanta.

But Philly doesn’t have that. Not anymore.  They have the most highly paid reliever in baseball history sitting on his keister while people like David Herndon, Antonio Bastardo, Brian Sanches and Michael Schwimer blow games.

Oh, wait. Those games weren’t blown. Because they weren’t lost in save situations. How silly of me.

Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez killed in a boating accident

MIAMI, FL - AUGUST 03: Jose Fernandez #16 of the Miami Marlins looks on during a game against the New York Mets at Marlins Park on August 3, 2015 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Horrible news: Miami Marlins ace starting pitcher Jose Fernandez was killed in a boat crash off of Miami Beach late last night.

No details have been released yet, apart from the fact that Fernandez was one of three people killed. The Marlins have issued a statement confirming Fernandez’s death, stating that the organization is devastated and that their thoughts and prayers were with Fernandez’s family. Today’s Marlins game against the Braves has been canceled.

Fernandez was only 24 years old. Though only in his fourth season in the majors, he was easily one of the best and most exciting pitchers in the game. In his four seasons he won 38 games and posted a fantastic ERA of 2.58 while striking out 11.2 batters per nine innings. He was an electric presence on the mound and was poised to become one of baseball’s most highly-paid and entertaining superstars.

His baseball exploits seem trivial now, however. His loss at such a young age, tragic. Our thoughts today are with Fernandez’s family, the Marlins organization and those who knew and loved him.

The Nationals are NL East champs once again

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 24:  Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals celebrates after clinching the National League East Division Championship after defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1 at PNC Park on September 24, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Another day, another division title in the bag. The Nationals coasted to a 6-1 finish over the Pirates on Saturday evening; coupled with a Mets’ loss later that night, the NL East title was theirs for the third time since 2012.

The Nationals put up a three-spot in the first and fourth innings, scoring five of six runs on productive outs while Washington starter Joe Ross tossed 2  innings of one-run ball in his second start off the disabled list. Prior to the game, manager Dusty Baker seemed reluctant to delegate a set number of pitches to the right-hander, opting instead to base Ross’s workload on his performance.

Washington’s bullpen carried the team the rest of the way, combining for 6 ⅓ scoreless frames to preserve their five-run lead. When Anthony Rendon snared a liner from Andrew McCutchen to end the game, all eyes turned to the clubhouse TVs:

Murphy had sufficient cause for worry: After trailing 10-0 through four innings, the Mets returned with an eight-run drive that culminated with Jay Bruce‘s solo shot in the ninth inning. Had Bruce hit the home run after Philadelphia closer Michael Mariot issued a pair of walks, and not before, the Mets would have edged out the Phillies, 11-10. Instead, their late-game rally ended on a fastball down the middle, and the Phillies’ 70th victory confirmed the Nats’ place atop the NL East.

While Max Scherzer donned his two-toned goggles and Bryce Harper braved the champagne showers in U.S. Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky’s swim cap, Baker was already thinking about Sunday’s start. Against the Pirates’ Tyler Glasnow, Baker announced his plans to start 24-year-old A.J. Cole, whose seven starts have yielded a 4.68 ERA and 0.2 fWAR in 32 ⅔ innings this year.

Cole hasn’t displayed the sharpest stuff in his sophomore season, touting a high 3.03 BB/9 and 1.93 HR/9, but with the division locked down and the Cubs in sole possession of home field advantage through the NLCS, the Nationals have bigger concerns as the playoffs draw near.