And with this quote from Ron Gardenhire about Francisco Liriano, we officially begin to transition from the hot stove season to the “Player X is in the best shape of his life” season:
“I just got a report that
he’s throwing the living fire out of the ball down in the Dominican
(Republic). He threw eight innings the other
day, and his fastball was 92 to 94 (mph) and his slider was filthy.
That’s a really good thing, because he can be the bonus if we can get
him on track.”
I hope Gardenhire is right, because I like Liriano and want to be optimistic about him.
But let’s make no mistake: just like the hot stove season, the “best shape of his life” season is about 71% baloney and 23% wishful thinking (6% of the time a player is actually in the best shape of his life; you can look it up).
The only difference is that we know most trade and free agent rumors are baloney or wishful thinking within a day or two. When someone talks about how great an injured, old and/or washed-up player looks during the offseason, we don’t realize it’s hooey, hope or both until April.
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.