Darren O’Day isn’t a conventional pitcher. He’s given plenty of quality right-handed hitters a tough time during his big-league career. Still, it was kind of telling that Alex Rodriguez couldn’t catch up to his 85-mph fastball in Thursday’s loss to the Orioles.
A-Rod did get a single and a walk in five plate appearances Thursday. However, Yankees manager Joe Girardi again made the call to pull him with the game on the line. Unlike Wednesday, it didn’t pay off tonight, as Eric Chavez lined out in his place to end the 13-inning marathon. Still, pretty much everyone figures A-Rod would have struck out anyway.
Starting Rodriguez against left-hander Joe Saunders on Thursday was the right move. Now that the Orioles are going back to a righty in Jason Hammel for Game 5, it’s time for Rodriguez to take a seat. His bat is too slow to make him a threat right now, and if he’s capable of guessing fastball and cheating on it, he certainly hasn’t showed it so far.
Chavez should play third base in his place. Chavez hit .298/.365/.543 with 16 homers in 245 at-bats against righties during the regular season. A-Rod hit .256/.326/.391 with 10 homers in 317 at-bats.
Really, as bad as A-Rod has looked, this doesn’t even make for a tough call. Rodriguez is hardly the only Yankee struggling — Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson aren’t getting it done either — but Chavez has been the superior option against righties for months now and with the season on the line, the Yankees can’t afford to be going with their lesser players. It’d do or die, and A-Rod appears long dead.
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.