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Two managers are making some unconventional bullpen decisions

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For years statheads and a large part of the baseball commentariat have pined for managers to break the Tony La Russa habit of  designating relief pitchers for strict and distinct roles. The closer gets the ninth inning, the setup man gets the eighth, the lefty specialist gets one or two lefties, tops, and the chips fall where they may.

In the past couple of years we’ve seen managers willing to stretch those boundaries, particularly in the playoffs. This has mostly been driven by the talent of the pitcher in question. I mean, if you have Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman — or Madison Bumgarner for that matter — use Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman or Madison Bumgarner when needed and to hell with whatever Tony La Russa would do.

In the early going of 2017, however, we’re seeing some unconventional bullpen practices from a couple of managers who aren’t likely to sniff the playoffs this year: Bryan Price of the Reds and Bob Melvin of the Athletics.

As C. Trent Rosecrans notes, Price used arguably his best reliever in the the third inning in last night’s win over the Pirates. That’s Mike Lorenzen, who got out of a jam and proceeded to toss three perfect innings in relief. Price is still using Raul Iglesias as his closer, but his use of Lorenzen is practically Goose Gossagian.

Meanwhile, in Oakland, Melvin is doing something different himself. It’s not too crazy — it’s really just a two-man closing team — but it passes for innovative these days.

Last night Melvin went to Sean Doolittle for the save. And Doolittle got the save. The A’s signed Santiago Casilla this offseason, however, and Melvin said today on MLB Network Radio that he plans on using Casilla for save situations as well. He’s going to play the matchups mostly, with the lefty Doolittle seeing action if the ninth inning stands to feature more lefties and Casilla if more righties are coming to the plate. Ryan Madson is also still on the roster and it’s not crazy to think he’ll get some chances as well.

Again, nothing radical, but it’s worth a tip of the cap to any manager willing to break La Russian orthodoxy.

Aledmys Diaz is trying to improve his defense with strobe glasses

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MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reports that Cardinals’ shortstop Aledmys Diaz has been sporting a new look around Busch Stadium with a pair of “strobe glasses,” technology-enhanced specs designed to help athletes focus on the ball. Like a strobe light, the lenses of these glasses affect a player’s vision by rapidly changing opacity, giving its wearers the illusion that the objects they see are moving more slowly than normal. Once a player adjusts to the new speed of play, they gain a greater sense of control and are able to time their actions with more precision.

Diaz isn’t the first MLB player to utilize the technology, just the first Cardinals’ player to do so. It’s been tested by Bryce Harper, Corey Brown, Tommy Joseph, Austin Hedges and Joe Mauer, among others around the league, and has been used for everything from refining a catcher’s reflexes behind the plate to tweaking a hitter’s ability to track a pitch. Per Langosch, Diaz has been using the glasses to hone in on the ball during pregame drills, increasing both his confidence and response time on the field and improving his defense at short.

The shortstop has been the focus of some concern this season after seeing a sizable dip in his production at the plate, and his five fielding errors, 0.6 UZR and 0.6 fWAR haven’t helped matters, either. He sustained a minor thumb injury during an at-bat on Friday night, and was left off of the Cardinals’ starting lineup on Saturday, though manager Mike Matheny didn’t rule out his ability to pinch-hit during the series. While the strobe glasses are a good start, Diaz will need more than a pair of specs to match the spotlight-worthy performance he turned out during his rookie season in 2016.

Eduardo Rodriguez could rejoin the Red Sox rotation in July

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Red Sox’ left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez may finally get a chance at cracking the rotation again, assuming all goes well in Double-A Portland first. Rodriguez took the field prior to the club’s afternoon session with the Angels, firing 68 pitches in a simulated game as he prepared for an upcoming rehab assignment in Portland on Thursday.

The 24-year-old southpaw suffered a right knee subluxation during pregame warmups on June 1, and it’s been a slow path to recovery ever since. It’s not the first time Rodriguez has had issues with his right knee — he sustained a similar injury during spring training last year — and this time around, the Red Sox weren’t about to gamble with their starter’s health. Ian Browne of MLB.com reports that Rodriguez was put in a knee brace and underwent exercises designed to help him regain some mobility and stability while he worked back up to full strength on the mound.

He’ll still need to prove he can throw a 75- to 80-pitch outing in Double-A, and barring any significant setbacks, will likely rejoin the Red Sox’ pitching staff when they visit the Rangers next month. In the meantime, the club will continue to cycle starters through the No. 5 spot, which has seen no fewer than three different pitchers since Rodriguez hit the disabled list. The lefty is 4-2 in 10 starts this season after logging a 3.54 ERA, 3.1 BB/9 and career-high 9.6 SO/9 through his first 61 innings.