A manager saving his closer in a tie game on the road backfires again

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Shocking, I know.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle decided against using closer Jason Grilli, one of the best relievers in baseball, as his team battled the Cubs in an 11-inning affair this afternoon. Trailing 3-2 in the ninth, Pirates outfielder Starling Marte tied the game with a solo home run. Hurdle went to Vin Mazzaro in the bottom of the ninth and Bryan Morris in the bottom of the tenth, both recording scoreless innings.

Hurdle could have called on Grilli, but decided to use Morris for a second inning in the eleventh. Morris entered the afternoon with more than half the strikeout rate (17% to 40.5%) and more than double the walk rate (11.5% to 5%). Anthony Rizzo and Alfonso Soriano both singled to start the inning, putting runners on first and second with no outs. Catcher Russell Martin made a throwing error throwing behind Rizzo at second base, as Luis Valbuena was attempting to sacrifice bunt to advance both runners. Valbuena was intentionally walked to set up a force out at each base. Dioner Navarro mercifully ended the game quickly, hitting a sacrifice fly to center field to give the Cubs the 4-3 win.

Hurdle is just the latest in a long line of managers who have opted to let their best reliever rot in the bullpen in the hope their team takes a lead rather than actively using him to maintain a tie game. Today, though… today is his.

Maddon: Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch again for Angels this year

Shohei Ohtani
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Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch again this season for the Los Angeles Angels after straining his right forearm in his second start, manager Joe Maddon says.

Ohtani likely will return to the Angels’ lineup as their designated hitter this week, Maddon said Tuesday night before the club opened a road series against the Seattle Mariners.

The Angels’ stance on Ohtani is unsurprising after the club announced he had strained the flexor pronator mass near the elbow of his pitching arm. The two-way star’s recovery from the strain requires him to abstain from throwing for four to six weeks, which covers most of the shortened 2020 season.

“I’m not anticipating him pitching at all this year,” Maddon said. “Any kind of throwing program is going to be very conservative.”

Ohtani was injured Sunday in the second inning of his second start since returning to the mound following Tommy John surgery in late 2018. Ohtani issued five walks during the 42-pitch inning against the Houston Astros, with his velocity dropping later in the frame.

The arm injury is another obstacle in Ohtani’s path to becoming the majors’ first true two-way player in decades. He made 10 mound starts as a rookie in 2018 before injuring his elbow, but he served as the Angels’ regular designated hitter last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Ohtani has pitched in only three games since June 2018, but the Angels still believe in Ohtani’s ability to be a two-way player, Maddon said.

“I’m seeing that he can,” Maddon said. “We’ve just got to get past the arm maladies and figure that out. But I’ve seen it. He’s just such a high-end arm, and we’ve seen what he can do in the batter’s box. Now maybe it might get to the point where he may choose to do one thing over the other and express that to us. I know he likes to hit. In my mind’s eye, he’s still going to be able to do this.”

The veteran manager believes Ohtani will benefit from a full spring training and a normal season. Ohtani wasn’t throwing at full strength for a starter when the coronavirus pandemic shut down spring training in March because he wasn’t expected to pitch until May as he returned from surgery.

“Going into a regular season with a normal number of starts and all the things that permit guys to be ready for a year, that’s what we need to see is some normalcy before you make that kind of determination,” Maddon said.

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