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.