Billy Wagner dominating on verge of 400th save, but Braves are riding him awfully hard

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When the Braves signed Billy Wagner this offseason there was some thought that they’d have to be cautious with the 38-year-old’s workload in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery.
Instead he’s on pace for 70 appearances and 67 innings, which is pretty standard for a modern closer, and the Braves ramped up the workload last week by using Wagner for an inning Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Rarely do teams have a reliever work four straight days, let alone a 38-year-old reliever not that far removed from major surgery, but Wagner tossed a scoreless inning each time, allowing just two hits and a walk while striking out five.
He also notched a win and three saves in the four appearances, and as David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution notes Wagner is now one save away from joining Trevor Hoffman (596), Mariano Rivera (542), Lee Smith (478), and John Franco (424) in the 400-save club. I’d say that would increase his Hall of Fame case in the eyes of voters, but as the greatest left-handed reliever of all time his case should be obvious anyway.
Wagner has said that he plans to retire after the season, so there isn’t much long-term risk to running him out there on back-to-back-to-back-to-back days, but with the Braves sitting atop the NL East with the league’s best record there should be plenty of incentive to keep him healthy and sharp for the stretch run and playoffs.
So far so good, as Wagner is 5-0 with 14 saves and has been amazing with a 1.23 ERA, .168 opponents’ batting average, and 43/12 K/BB ratio in 29.1 innings, but it’ll be interesting to see if Bobby Cox loosens the reins a bit after leaning on him so heavily last week.

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.