Judging the Royals

Here’s why you don’t pitch Wade Davis every night

Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Wade Davis.
Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Wade Davis. jsleezer@kcstar.com

On Monday night, Edinson Volquez pitched seven innings and then Kelvin Herrera was brought in to protect a 2-0 lead in the eighth. Herrera gave up one run on a homer, but closer Wade Davis pitched a scoreless ninth and the Royals beat the Indians 2-1.

After the game, Ned Yost was asked about using Herrera and Davis three days in a row; most of the time if a reliever pitches two days in a row, he’ll get the third day off.

Ned said it was a reflection of how important these games are; the Royals are chasing the Indians and beating the Indians when they play them means the Royals pick up a game in the standings.

Later that night I was taking my super-secret route for avoiding traffic and getting out of Kauffman Stadium quickly (don’t ask, because if I tell you how I do it, the route’s not super-secret anymore) while listening to Josh Vernier’s postgame radio show.

Apparently some fans were criticizing Ned for not using Davis three days in a row at the start of the Road Trip from Hell. Davis pitched on May 31 and June 1, and on June 2 Ned rested Davis and used Joakim Soria to close a game against the Indians; Soria blew the save.

If Davis could pitch three days in a row on June 13, why couldn’t he do the same on June 2? And as long as were at it, why not pitch Wade Davis every night?

Well, think about why marathon runners don’t sprint from start to finish and you have your answer. Baseball is a marathon and you can’t sprint all the way; you have to pick your spots.

How they decide which relievers are available

Baseball teams keep track of how much work a reliever is getting and when he’s getting it. Each day the coaching staff goes over which relievers are available that night; they also want to hear from the pitchers.

If a reliever goes out to play catch in the afternoon and he doesn’t feel right, he’s supposed to let the pitching coach know. Every one appreciates a gamer — a guy who wants the ball every night — but pitchers need to be honest about how they feel. If a guy has a tender elbow or shoulder, you don’t want him out there aggravating it.

Take a day off and maybe the tenderness goes away; try to pitch through it and you might injure yourself.

So what about June 2?

Sometimes a pitching coach has to be a mind-reader; pitchers don’t want to let the team down so they might say they’re good to go when they’re not. When Davis was asked if he could pitch in that June 2 game, apparently he hesitated before answering and that was enough to shut him down.

On June 2, the Royals were in first place and had a two-game lead on the White Sox and a 2  1/2 -game lead on the Indians. In that situation, risking injury to the best closer in the game did not make a lot of sense.

If you own a Ferrari, you don’t want to redline it every time you go to the grocery store.

Are Davis and Herrera available on Tuesday?

After Ned talked about Herrera and Davis pitching three days in a row, it would seem logical to ask him if it’s possible for them to pitch four days in a row; but that’s not a great question to ask a manager in a news conference. Ned might have answered, but there’s no reason he should.

If Ned said yes Herrera and Davis could pitch four days in a row and then didn’t use them when he needed them, Ned would look misinformed. If Ned said no, they couldn’t pitch four days in a row and then used them anyway, Ned would look like he lied.

That’s part of the reason managers don’t want to answer those questions; why paint yourself in a corner when you don’t have to?

And why give the other team useful information?

I once listened to a manager say a left-handed reliever was day-to-day every time he was asked about the lefty’s status. After the news conference the manager told me the guy was hurt — the manager hadn’t lied, we’re all day-to-day — but he hadn’t disclosed the entire truth.

I asked why and the manager said all he had to do was get that lefty up and moving around in the bullpen and the other manager would keep his left-handed pinch hitter on the bench. Smart managers do not disclose information unless they have to.

After pitching three days in a row, odds are Herrera and Davis aren’t available Tuesday night, but if they come in Tuesday afternoon, play catch and say they feel great, that situation might change … but it’s doubtful.

When you have great relievers and 99 games left to play you don’t want to push your luck too hard or too soon.

And that’s why you don’t pitch Wade Davis every night.

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