What we're watching: Kawakami vs. Santana

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– Josh Johnson versus Wandy Rodriguez looks like the pitching matchup of the night. The two rank seventh and 11th in the NL in ERA, respectively. Johnson has gone 5-0 in his last six starts to move to 12-2 for the season, but his ERA has actually risen slightly during the span. Rodriguez was on an excellent role himself before giving up 10 runs last time out to take his ERA from 2.51 to 3.05. It was more runs than he had given up in his previous nine starts combined. Working in Rodriguez’s favor tonight is that the Marlins have struggled some against left-handed pitching. The Astros, though, have lost four of six games to the Marlins over the last two weeks.
– The Red Sox go for a big sweep in Toronto with Jon Lester on the mound. Lester has received no-decisions in four straight, though he struggled in only one of those outings. He’s 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA against Toronto this year, with the lone loss coming in a pitchers duel versus Roy Halladay. Fellow lefty Brett Cecil will go for the Jays. He owns a 5-1 record, but that one loss came to the Red Sox, as he gave up eight runs in 4 2/3 innings in Boston on May 20.
Game of the Night
Atlanta vs. New York – After a couple of routs to start the series, the Braves and Mets will play the deciding game tonight. The Mets won Tuesday after an eight-run inning against Derek Lowe, and the Braves destroyed Bobby Parnell as part of a 15-2 game last night. It will be Kenshin Kawakami versus Johan Santana in the finale. Kawakami has lost twice to the Mets despite posting a 3.09 ERA in his two starts. He’s been a victim of poor run support while going 0-3 with a 3.79 ERA in six starts since the All-Star break. Santana also has a history of poor run support against his opponent tonight. Before pitching seven scoreless innings to beat the Braves on July 18 — in a matchup against Kawakami — he had been 0-6 with a 2.31 ERA versus Atlanta.

Zack Cozart thinks the way the Rays have been using Sergio Romo is bad for baseball

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The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.

In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.

The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.

Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”

It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.

It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.