If you thought the Washington Post’s Tom Boswell was provocative in calling Bryce Harper his seventh-best player in his latest column, get a load of his answer during his chat on the Nationals this morning:
Unlike the thing about Harper being the seventh-best player — which was Boswell’s own, possibly disingenuous assertion — this sounds way more like Boswell passing along scuttlebutt of what he’d heard from Nats players, coaches and/or execs. We’re in no position to know for sure, but talking to some Nats fans on Twitter who pay close attention to coverage of the team reveals that Boswell’s m.o. is more about being a conduit for internal team sentiment and using his chats to mention things that he may not be able to get into a column than it is about stirring crap for its own sake. And, based on reading Boswell for nearly 20 years myself, he has never struck me as the sort of guy who gets all huffy about someone and then decides to mount a campaign against them a la Plaschke (see, Plaschke vs. Paul DePodesta, Plaschke vs. Puig, etc.).
So, what to make of this? Maybe I’m wrong and Boswell is just beating up an attractive target for the hell of it. Maybe someone — or many someones — on the Nats is suspicious of Harper. Maybe it’s the totally unhinged thoughts of one player on a bad day. Maybe there’s an undercurrent of anti-Harper sentiment on the team. Maybe Harper is legitimately reverting to some of the stuff that made him look a little bad when he was 16 or 17 or whatever and it’s rubbing people the wrong way.
But we can at least say that it’s not that often a veteran team which many think is playoff-bound gets catty like this in front of reporters. Implying that a guy oversold an injury in order to duck a tough pitcher is a pretty serious accusation, be it made anonymously or not. It’s something worth watching.
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.