April 16, 2013
Chapter 12: Beyond the frame of reference
There is usually a normal range of expectations you have for a starting pitcher, any starting pitcher for that matter. You generally expect him to go seven inning or possibly into the eighth inning if he's good, and maybe get run in the fifth inning if he's not on his game. That's your frame of reference for how to evaluate a pitching performance.Oh, sometimes some poor sap leaves early because he tweaks a hamstring, or develops a blister, and you tut-tut his poor luck, and hope the old boys in the bullpen can pick up the slack and the team a chance of victory. Sometimes a youngster just doesn't have it, and you walk away saying "that kid isn't ready for the big leagues." Then he gets optioned down, and you may or may not hear from him again.
But what do you say about a pitcher in his eighth major-league season that can't get out of the second inning? I don't have a recap script on hand that I can use for that. I'm very familiar with the five-and flier, the six innings, four run special, even the tough-luck quality start. But what do you say about this...
1.2 IP, 2 H, 7 ER, 1 SO, 5 BB
...without resorting to cheap vulgarities? The "he's a bum, get him outta there" type? You know that these types of starts are Pyrrhic defeats, in which you get all the collateral damage plus the lose the battle too. The Indians came into the game with perhaps an over-rested bullpen thanks to the rain outs and Masterson's shutout and the off day, and the Indians ended the day with two relievers completely unusable for the rest of the series (Allen and Hagadone) and the other two most likely out for at least tonight.
Of course that's thinking about the effects of the start...what about the start itself? What was about this pitching performance that led to this result way outside our standard frame of reference? We've talked at length about Ubaldo's mechanical problems, their sources, the futile attempts last year to fix them on the fly, and those failures probably cost a pitching coach his job. After Terry Francona hired Mickey Callaway as his pitching coach, they both traveled to Ubaldo's home in the Dominican Republic to try a different tack; he was to not think so much about his mechanics, simplify things, and get back to his mental state before everything unraveled. I guess that's easier said than done when your confidence is in complete tatters, but things seemed to be working in spring training, and then they seemed to work the first game of the season, and then OH NO. The Indians held him back after the home opener, allowed him to throw a couple bullpens, and then tried things again, and then OH NO.
What do you do with a starting pitcher with eight season's of experience that just can't throw a fastball for strikes? I don't mean to say that it's easy to throw a fastball over the plate with regularity (otherwise we wouldn't be paying pitchers millions of dollars a season) but once upon a time Ubaldo Jimenez could do that. He still might be able to do that, but with another couple of starts like this the Indians will have to stop waiting for him to regain some semblance of competence and let someone else try their luck with him.
As for the rest of the game, the Indians had some chances to get back into the game. They were remote chances, though; they would have had to hit a grand slam here, a three-run homer there, and magical things would have had to happen, but with Felix Doubront on the mound, magic wasn't outlawed. Doubront was the typical five and flier, barely getting through the five innings necessary to get the win. He faced Mark Reynolds with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth, but Reynolds got under a pitch and popped out to end the threat. The rest of the bullpen wasn't great, but they didn't need to be with the lead they were working with.
The Tribe bullpen should be credited with not letting the game turn out too horribly. They didn't give up a run, allowing for the possibility of a huge comeback. Cody Allen, another pitcher who seemed to have completely lost it, starting finding it as he worked his way through three innings. Nick Hagadone, just up from Columbus, went two innings. Rich Hill was stretched out to a full inning. So none of the late-inning guys had to used, but the bullpen is very vulnerable if there's another short outing between now and Friday.