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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.

Erasmo Ramirez to be shut down with a minor lat strain

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Mariners right-hander Erasmo Ramirez has been shut down for two weeks with a minor lat strain, reports Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times. It’s a precautionary move, as Ramirez felt some tightness in his arm and could not complete his scheduled bullpen session on Saturday.

There’s no word yet on whether Ramirez will be able to recover in time for the start of the season, though he’s expected to claim a rotation spot again this spring. The 28-year-old righty has been dogged by injuries throughout his six-year career, but finally managed to piece together a full season on the mound in back-to-back stints with the Rays and Mariners in 2017. He went 5-6 in 19 starts for the two clubs and turned in a cumulative 4.39 ERA, 2.1 BB/9 and 7.5 SO/9 through 131 1/3 innings.

The Mariners are no stranger to pitcher injuries, either. They lost a number of their top arms to various elbow, arm and shoulder injuries last year and cycled through 40 total pitchers as they limped toward a 78-84 finish. Comments from club manager Scott Servais indicate that the team will keep a close eye on Ramirez throughout his recovery, though Divish notes that right-hander Andrew Moore and lefty Ariel Miranda could also slot into the no. 5 spot if Ramirez experiences further setbacks.