Vernon Wells hasn’t played much since coming off the disabled list because a) he’s been really bad since the beginning of last season, and b) the Angels have Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, and Torii Hunter in the outfield.
In what limited playing time he has gotten Wells is 0-for-15 with five strikeouts and zero walks, but manager Mike Scioscia doesn’t seem to be buying into the whole “he needs to play regularly to be productive” talk, telling Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times:
You might not find a groove, but you have to have better at-bats. You might not get locked in, but it doesn’t mean you’re not going to contribute. Vernon should be on some pitches and hit the ball hard even with limited playing time. … You have to be able to get it done. That’s the bottom line.
Scioscia is right, of course. Playing once or twice a week obviously isn’t ideal for any hitter, but Wells put himself in that position by performing horribly while getting everyday playing time last season and at the beginning of this season.
He’s hit .218 with a ghastly .249 on-base percentage and .405 slugging percentage in 685 plate appearances and 173 games for the Angels and the only reason they haven’t cut Wells already is that he’s being paid $21 million this season and is owed $21 million in 2013 and 2014.
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.