Daniel Nava, getting a much-anticipated start in left field over Jonny Gomes, delivered a game-tying RBI single in the sixth inning. Some would argue that Cardinals manager Mike Matheny deserves half of Nava’s credit, though.
The inning started off innocently enough as Shane Victorino drew a walk off of Cardinals starter Joe Kelly. Dustin Pedroia hit a sharp line dive down the left field line but it was snagged by David Freese. With David Ortiz coming up and Randy Choate warmed up in the bullpen, Matheny removed Kelly from the game for the lefty-on-lefty match-up. Down in the count 1-2, Ortiz singled to the right of first baseman Matt Adams, sending Victorino to third base.
The switch-hitting Nava was in the on-deck circle but Matheny decided to go to right-hander Seth Maness in the hopes that he could generate an inning-ending double play. On the first pitch Maness threw, an 89 MPH sinker, Nava ripped it into left field for an RBI single, tying the game up at 2-2. Xander Bogaerts gave Maness the ground ball double play he was looking for, just a batter too late, going 4-6-3 to end the inning.
Both teams’ starters are out of the game now, making the rest of the game a battle of the bullpens. Jake Peavy’s night ended with a line that read: 4 IP, 2 ER, 6 H, 1 BB, 4 K. Kelly’s line read: 5.1 IP, 2 ER, 2 H, 3 BB, 6 K.
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.