On Friday night Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez took the mound against the Houston Astros, and right away it was evident Volquez didn’t have it. Volquez gave up nine runs in the first inning, and yet Royals manager Ned Yost sent Volquez back out for a second inning of work.
On Saturday night it was Chris Young having problems. The Royals starting pitcher got through the first inning while giving up one hit, but then got clobbered in the second inning. Despite Young surrendering seven runs to the Astros in the second, Ned sent Young back out for the third inning.
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On Friday and Saturday night Royals fans could see their team’s starting pitchers didn’t have it, and those fans were calling for the starting pitchers to be pulled. So if fans could see the Royals starting pitchers were getting lit up, couldn’t Ned see the same thing?
Of course he could; but no matter how poorly a starting pitcher throws, most of the time a manager can’t pull that starting pitcher right away.
The bullpen: Who pitches when?
Managers want to use their most effective relievers when those relievers will do the team the most good: protecting a lead. The Royals’ best relievers are Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar and Joakim Soria.
When those guys pitch in a game, they give it everything they have for one inning. They step on the gas and throw their best stuff for 10 to 20 pitches.
Those guys are sprinters.
But if you use one of those sprinters two days in a row, most of the time he’ll need that third day off. Send one of them out to pitch in a game you’re losing by a large margin on Friday and if you have to use that same pitcher again on Saturday, he probably won’t be available on Sunday.
Bad managing on Friday can cost you a game two days later.
If a manager isn’t going to use his best relievers in a loss, he’ll call on his long relievers — pitchers capable of throwing more than one inning.
Those guys pace themselves; they’re long-distance runners.
So when Ned sent his starting pitcher back out to pitch – even though the starting pitcher was getting hammered – Ned was no longer worried about winning that game. It would be nice if the Royals made an unexpected comeback, but Ned’s main goal was to get close enough to the finish line so he wouldn’t have to use one of his best relievers when losing by a wide margin.
Give the innings-eaters credit
On Friday, Dillon Gee and Brian Flynn finished the game and pitched eight innings between them, and that’s huge. They kept Ned from dipping further into his bullpen in a 13-4 loss, and that meant the Royals had a better chance of winning on Saturday and Sunday.
But on Saturday Ned had to go to his pen early again; this time the game was finished by Peter Moylan, Chien-Ming Wang and Drew Butera (that’s right, Drew Butera went to the mound).
So because those five guys ate innings on Friday and Saturday, the Royals have a better chance of winning on Sunday and Monday; if needed, Davis, Herrera, Hochevar and Soria will be available on back-to-back days.
Ned’s managing a season; not a game
When a fan pays his or her hard-earned money to come out to watch the Royals play on Friday, that fan wants to see a good game. So when the starting pitcher gets lit up right away, that fan wants to see the starting pitcher pulled while the game is still competitive. But that Friday-night fan is probably not thinking about Sunday’s game.
Managers can’t afford to think the same way.
On Friday the Royals started a stretch of 17 games in a row; they don’t have a scheduled day off until the All-Star break.
That means Ned can’t pull out the stops to win a game when his team is already behind. He can’t throw high-quality innings at a game his team is losing by a healthy margin. He can do that as the Royals approach the All-Star break, at the end of the season or in the playoffs, but right now Ned has to navigate his way through that 17-game stretch.
And that’s why Ned Yost can’t pull a starting pitcher right away.