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Two managers are making some unconventional bullpen decisions

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For years statheads and a large part of the baseball commentariat have pined for managers to break the Tony La Russa habit of  designating relief pitchers for strict and distinct roles. The closer gets the ninth inning, the setup man gets the eighth, the lefty specialist gets one or two lefties, tops, and the chips fall where they may.

In the past couple of years we’ve seen managers willing to stretch those boundaries, particularly in the playoffs. This has mostly been driven by the talent of the pitcher in question. I mean, if you have Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman — or Madison Bumgarner for that matter — use Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman or Madison Bumgarner when needed and to hell with whatever Tony La Russa would do.

In the early going of 2017, however, we’re seeing some unconventional bullpen practices from a couple of managers who aren’t likely to sniff the playoffs this year: Bryan Price of the Reds and Bob Melvin of the Athletics.

As C. Trent Rosecrans notes, Price used arguably his best reliever in the the third inning in last night’s win over the Pirates. That’s Mike Lorenzen, who got out of a jam and proceeded to toss three perfect innings in relief. Price is still using Raul Iglesias as his closer, but his use of Lorenzen is practically Goose Gossagian.

Meanwhile, in Oakland, Melvin is doing something different himself. It’s not too crazy — it’s really just a two-man closing team — but it passes for innovative these days.

Last night Melvin went to Sean Doolittle for the save. And Doolittle got the save. The A’s signed Santiago Casilla this offseason, however, and Melvin said today on MLB Network Radio that he plans on using Casilla for save situations as well. He’s going to play the matchups mostly, with the lefty Doolittle seeing action if the ninth inning stands to feature more lefties and Casilla if more righties are coming to the plate. Ryan Madson is also still on the roster and it’s not crazy to think he’ll get some chances as well.

Again, nothing radical, but it’s worth a tip of the cap to any manager willing to break La Russian orthodoxy.

José Ramirez’s 17-pitch at-bat kickstarts Indians’ five-run comeback in ninth inning

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With his team trailing 8-3 to begin the bottom of the ninth inning of Sunday’s game against the Astros, Indians third baseman José Ramirez eventually won a 17-pitch at-bat against closer Ken Giles, ripping a double off of the wall in right field. The Indians would go on to score five runs on seven hits to tie the game against Giles and Hector Rondon. Ramirez almost won the game in his second at-bat of the ninth inning, but first basebamn Yuli Gurriel made a terrific diving catch on a line drive otherwise headed for the right field corner.

Giants first baseman Brandon Belt set a new modern record for the longest at-bat last month, seeing 21 pitches against the Angels’ Jaime Barria. The Astros’ Ricky Gutierrez sfaw 20 pitches from the Indians’ Bartolo Colon on June 26, 1998, which was the previous record. Kevin Bass saw 19 pitches from the Phillies’ Steve Bedrosian in 1988. There have also been five 18-pitch at-bats from Brian Downing, Bip Roberts, Alex Cora, Adam Kennedy, and Marcus Semien.

Sunday’s game wound up going 14 innings. The Astros pulled ahead 9-8 in the top of the 13th on a solo home run from Evan Gattis. However, the Indians’ Yonder Alonso responded with a solo shot of his own in the bottom of the 13th to re-knot the game at 9-9. Greg Allen then lifted a walk-off solo homer in the bottom of the 14th to give the Indians a 10-9 win.

After Sunday’s effort, Ramirez is batting .292/.389/.605 with 15 home runs, 37 RBI, 34 runs scored, and seven stolen bases. According to FanGraphs, his 3.5 Wins Above Replacement ranks third across baseball behind Mike Trout (4.4) and Mookie Betts (4.1). They’re the only players at three wins or above.