If only Jim Leyland hadn’t been so hands on

50 Comments

Tigers manager Jim Leyland spent the first four months of this season with two reliable relievers: left-hander Drew Smyly and right-hander Joaquin Benoit. Obviously, that’s less than ideal. But it did give him fewer chances to mess things up.

And mess things up he did in the ALCS. With Jose Veras and Al Alburquerque at his disposal, Leyland turned Smyly into a matchup guy. In Saturday’s game, Smyly induced a possible double-play grounder from the only batter he faced, Jacoby Ellsbury. Unfortunately, the play was botched by Jose Iglesias, who should have at least gotten one out.

Smyly was pulled. Veras came on with the bases loaded and gave up a grand slam to Shane Victorino. The rest is history.

From a percentage standpoint, it wasn’t such a bad move. Victorino certainly hits lefties better than righties, and Veras had been throwing well. But it was such a waste of the team’s best or second best reliever. Smyly held righties to a .242 average this year. He shouldn’t have been put in the situation as a one-and-done. Leyland wanted to save Phil Coke for David Ortiz, apparently, but it would have made more sense to let Coke face Ellsbury and then let Smyly have at Ortiz and a couple of the right-handers surrounding him. That was their best bet.

Instead, Smyly was gone after facing one left-handed batter for the third time in four ALCS appearances. It had happened just five times in 65 appearances between the regular season and ALDS (during which time he amassed a 2.34 ERA in 77 innings). The one time he was allowed to go longer against the Red Sox he ended up retiring all five batters he faced.

Game 2 was lost by the Tigers in nearly the same fashion as Game 6. Benoit, who gave up David Ortiz’s grand slam, was the fourth reliever to pitch in the eighth inning. Smyly walked Ellsbury and was immediately removed in that one.

Of course, not all of this is on Leyland. Things could have worked out fine had some non-Smyly relievers made better pitches. It’s just that Smyly seemed like the best bet to make those better pitches.

It’s easy to imagine the Tigers overreacting to their ALCS loss and signing a big-name closer this winter after passing on Rafael Soriano last winter. Trading Rick Porcello for late-inning relief help and moving Smyly to the rotation might also be a consideration. Benoit is a free agent, and if he’s back, it’ll probably be as a setup man. Ideally, Bruce Rondon would have been ready to close, but after his late-season elbow woes, he can’t be counted on in the role just yet. As is, I can’t help but think the Tigers will import one closer from the group of Grant Balfour, Joe Nathan and Brian Wilson this winter.

Max Scherzer, with broken nose, strikes out 10 Phillies over seven shutout innings

Patrick Smith/Getty Images
3 Comments

Nationals starter Max Scherzer bunted a ball into his face during batting practice on Tuesday, breaking his nose in the process. He ended up with a gnarly looking shiner around his right eye, making him appear a bit like Terminator. Scherzer still took the ball to start the second game of Wednesday night’s doubleheader against the Phillies.

Despite the injury, Scherzer was incredibly effective, limiting the Phillies to four hits and two walks across seven shutout innings, striking out 10 batters in the process. He might even have had some extra adrenaline going, as he averaged 96.2 MPH on his fastball, his highest average fastball velocity in a game since September 2012, per MLB.com’s Jamal Collier. The Nationals provided Scherzer with just one run of support, coming on a Brian Dozier solo home run off of Jake Arrieta in the second inning, but it was enough.

Wander Suero worked a scoreless top of the eighth with a pair of strikeouts. Victor Robles added a solo homer off of Pat Neshek in the bottom half. Closer Sean Doolittle took over in the ninth, working a 1-2-3 frame to give the Nats their 2-0 victory.

Over his last six starts, Scherzer now has a 0.88 ERA with a 59/8 K/BB ratio across 41 innings. He has gone six innings, struck out at least nine batters, and held the opposition to two or fewer runs in each of those six starts.