UPDATE: Yep, didn’t matter. The Nationals defeated the Padres 5-3 on Friday night. Nationals manager Jim Riggleman told Corey Brock of MLB.com that he sympathized with Bud Black’s mistake:
“It’s my nightmare, Casey Stengel’s nightmare, it’s the future managers
of the world’s nightmare. I know I look at it 10 times. I’ve had our
coaches look over it, over and over,” Riggleman said. “I shouldn’t speak
for Buddy. He is first-class. He brought to the attention of the
umpire. … Just for the sake of our ballclub. We protested.”
Friday, 11:46 PM: Here’s something you see just about never. According to Ben Goessling of MASNSports.com, the Nationals played Friday night’s game under protest because the Padres listed Adam
Russell as the starting pitcher on the lineup card instead
of Clayton Richard.
Seriously. The same Adam Russell that was sent to minor leagues earlier in the day. The same Adam Russell that has 43 major league appearances, but no starts. I could understand Bud Black writing Kevin Correia, maybe Jake Peavy if he was feeling nostalgic, but Russell? Crazy.
Anyway, I don’t have a rulebook in front of me, but Goessling lays out the grounds of the Nationals’ protest like this:
The official MLB rules that govern what happened are Nos. 3.05 and 4.01;
3.05 says an improper pitcher becomes legal if he is permitted to
pitch, which is why the Nationals had to protest before Richard threw
his first pitch on Friday night. But rule 4.01 says teams should not be
“trapped” by a mistake that was obvious to everyone and can be
Protests happen all the time — and this one was accepted by the umpires — but one hasn’t been upheld since 1986 when it was determined that a game between the Pirates and Cardinals was improperly called due to rain. In the end, it seems like a pretty honest mistake. And if the Nationals win, which they are doing right now, 4-2 in the 8th, it won’t matter.
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.