Joe Maddon gets steamed, gets ejected

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Maddon Hernandez Pena arguing.jpgIn hindsight, the biggest shocker of the whole ninth inning exchange between Carlos Pena, Joe Maddon and home plate umpire Angel Hernandez in last night’s Rays-Jays game was that Kevin Gregg threw a strike. But we’ll cover Gregg’s nightmare night later this morning.  For now, let’s talk about the rhubarb.

In case you missed it, Carlos Pena had a 2-2 count on him and called for time just as Gregg was going into his windup.* Hernandez didn’t grant it, Gregg pitched, and Pena — out of his stance and bat at his side — half-heartedly offered at what came in for strike three. The whole sequence can be seen here.

*Note: the MLB.com video starts a couple of seconds too late to tell for sure, but it’s not at all clear that Pena was calling for time before Gregg actually went into motion. He certainly had his hand up as Gregg was winding up, but we can’t tell if he had been calling time before that. If anyone out there was watching the game live and can weigh in on this, please do so in the comments.

Joe Maddon was clearly perturbed that Hernandez chose that moment — one out in the
ninth inning as the Rays are mounting a rally — to enforce baseball’s
new get-tough policy on speeding up the game. He gave Hernandez an earful over it and then walked down the line to give crew chief Joe West an earful as well, telling him “This is your [bleeping] fault!” no doubt referring to West’s crusade to speed up games via any and all methods short of calling a reasonable strike zone.

I understand Maddon’s frustration.  I think umps should be more stingy about allowing timeouts — and if Pena really wasn’t calling for it before Gregg was in his windup, forget it — but the ninth inning of a tense game is not the time to start denying guys time.  Consistency is key, and based on what all the parties to the dustup were saying after the game, Hernandez’s time-out policy was not consistent.

Just another item on the agenda for baseball’s umpire czar Mike Port, I suppose.  Between West’s and Bob Davidson’s antics last week, Bill Hohn’s on Monday and this business last week, Port has been a pretty busy guy lately.

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.