National League rules are causing quite the conundrum for the Red Sox. As they’ll be in St. Louis for Games 3, 4, and 5, they will have to watch their pitchers bat rather than utilizing a DH, normally David Ortiz. They must choose one of Ortiz and Mike Napoli, who has been playing first base throughout the post-season. Scott Miller of CBS Sports tweets that the Red Sox have chosen to go with Ortiz at first base while Mike Napoli will ride the bench, at least for Game 3. Ortiz played first base during interleague play, even as recently as September 24-25.
Both Ortiz and Napoli have been their team’s most productive hitters, so this is a bit of a blow. Ortiz owns a .268/.392/.659 line in the 2013 post-season while Napoli is at .225/.326/.475.
Red Sox manager John Farrell will also switch it up in left field, going with Daniel Nava over Jonny Gomes. Nava hasn’t started a post-season game for the Sox since Game 4 of the ALCS against Tigers starter Doug Fister. Gomes got the vote of confidence from Farrell despite facing two right-handed starters. He is hitless in seven trips to the plate in World Series play thus far.
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.