Was Terry Francona wrong to issue a "bullpen day" on Monday instead of using a starting pitcher? Would it have mattered what he called it if the starter could not go more than three innings anyway? Am I just some nobody on a couch questioning the decisions of a major-league manager?
All valid questions, but with the Cleveland Indians in the home stretch of a playoff run -- a playoff run that gets tighter with each loss -- we are reaching crunch time when it comes to decision making. Must-win games do not happen in April like we all like to believe and get over-excited about. Must-win games happen now, in September. That is not to say that a September 5 game against the Houston Astros is a must-win game, but the closer we get to October 4, the less crazy it begins to suggest any one game could ultimately make or break your season.
What if Monday was that game for the Tribe?
The idea of a bullpen day is fine, but the execution was terrible
If everything went according to plan, bullpen day could easily have been a success and we would not even be having this conversation. Maybe that makes the whole conversation moot anyway, because if a few things break the Indians' way, Tito gets praised for not needlessly stretching out a reliever for a single start. Unfortunately, thinks did not break that way. Or even close to that way.
The Indians utilized eight relievers in the 6-2 loss, including Josh Tomlin, who would have started the game in a regular rotation spot. Instead of Tomlin, Mike Clevinger took the start and only lasted 1.2 innings. In that short span, he allowed eight hits and walked two batters. Granted, he didn't look great but there was no real reason to yank him so early in a regular start. He was only at 43 pitches and he had not yet put the Tribe in too deep of a hole that they could not dig themselves out.
But Clevinger was not stretched as a starter and Tito wanted him as a bullpen arm for the rest of the season. So, the great bullpen day disaster of 2016 continued with seven other pitches cobbled together into some kind of pseudo pitcher. Things would have been much worse were it not for Perci Garner sticking it out through two excellent innings of one-hit baseball.
In theory, Andrew Miller was already unavailable due to the work he put in on Sunday so Jeff Manship, Joe Colon, Dan Otero, Bryan Shaw, Cody Anderson, and Josh Tomlin were the remaining six to go on Monday. September is a different beast with the rosters opening up, but we have seen the effects of how a strained bullpen can drag the Indians down prior to the trade deadline following their 19-inning monster of a game against the Toronto Blue Jays. A similar tailspin is unlikely now with Andrew Miller in the fold, but it would be incredibly devastating.
Regardless of what the Indians bullpen did or did not do yesterday, the offense did not help things. If the Indians offense exploded for 11 runs and the Tribe won, do we even care at this point how many relievers were used? Maybe not, but that's not what happened. The Indians lost and the Detroit Tigers won. The American League Central lead shrunk just a tiny bit, and a devastated bullpen could lead more losses down the road.
There were not many good alternatives
With all that said, what else would you want Tito to do? Based on his recent track record, Josh Tomlin was not going to fare much better than Mike Clevinger did in that Monday game. At the very least, even if he did manage to make it to four innings -- like he has in all but one start this season dating back to May 30 -- he still would not have left the Indians in a position to win. Five of his last six starts failed to reach five innings, including the 1.2-inning laugher that resulted in him losing his starting job (temporarily, at least).
Clevinger was not on pace to make it much further than the fourth himself, even if he was stretched out to be a starter. So who else do the Indians turn to on Monday? Zach McAllister? Cody Anderson? Give Perci Garner a chance to start? None of these options seemed much better. The Indians just flat-out have a hole at the fifth starter position right now.
Worst of all, it solved nothing
Tomlin's now-vacant spot in the rotation will need to be filled the next time it comes around in the order; delaying the decision did nothing. The Indians could take advantage of someone in the minors with someone like Ryan Merritt or Shawn Morimando, but the right solution is still unclear.
Terry Francona told the media Tuesday that he still was not sure what sure what would be done with the spot which, as Ryan Lewis of the Beacon Journal notes, is an odd position for a contender like the Indians to be in. Quotes from Ryan's piece are not very encouraging, either. No one seems to know what do with the spot, like everyone is just sort of winging it right now.
"I think we want to try and figure out where we’re at when each start comes up," Callaway said. "If we’re going to have to use a guy to win a game before that, and we think we’re going to win a game using him, then we’ll do it again.
"But, if somebody’s available, and we don’t know who that might be, we’ll try and let him start. I think that would be the best approach to go about it, because if we hadn’t used a guy, no matter who it is, maybe they can start. If we have used them, maybe we’ll do a bullpen day or something like that. So, we’re not quite sure."
Luckily, this mess will not factor into the postseason. We know the Indians can field a competent three- or four-man rotation out of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Danny Salazar -- Josh Tomlin should never even sniff a start in late-October. But with the Tigers surging, games are getting more important. Not to mention the fact that Indians play the Tigers even more times before the season is over: that is plenty of games for something disastrous to happen.