While Ozzie Guillen spent most of last season ignoring problems, he showed he was still capable of paying attention and adjusting with the way he managed Sergio Santos in the second half.
In 2010, Santos' performance began to suffer after surpassing his workload from the previous season. Guillen applied that information and sought to ease the load off Santos after the All-Star break by mixing in his other able arms.
Simply put, he didn't feel obligated to use Santos to open the ninth. If a lefty or two led off the inning, he might use Chris Sale or Matt Thornton for those batters, even if they had pitched in the eighth inning. Once the lefties were cleared, Santos would come in to get the last one or two outs, and a save if it was still in play. On a couple of occasions, Sale worked a full inning for the save.
It worked tremendously well for everybody ... except Santos, who took the shift in strategy as an affront to his status and comfort. In his defense, he handled closer duties well. In Guillen's defense, Santos began pitching poorly after making his complaints public, justifying Guillen's new method. It was inspired managing, and his last glint of true leadership.
Robin Ventura, under more pressing circumstances, has adopted this strategy for the final month. Framed as the anti-Guillen for most of the young career, he picked a fine time and occasion to emulate his predecessor.
Ventura didn't anticipate the possibility of a wobbly closer like Guillen did, although Addison Reed didn't have a track record that suggested imminent deterioration.
Closing with Reed worked well in the first half despite rookie ups-and-downs and the lack of a defined second pitch. Since the All-Star break, using him in high-leverage situation is a much dicier proposition:
And even when he succeeded it wasn't pretty:
Entering today, Reed has 2.42 ERA in games in which he records a save... By FAR highest of anyone with 20+ saves. Next is Valverde (1.80)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 15, 2012
By comparison, Fernando Rodney has 0.22 ERA in games he records a save, Motte 0.25, Papelbon 0.25, Chapman 0.51, Kimbrel 0.51— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 15, 2012
Those poor second-half numbers are mostly a recent development, too. At the point of his greatest shame -- loading the bases without recording an out against Minnesota on Sept. 15 before giving way to Thornton -- Reed had allowed runs in seven of nine outings. Most of them didn't cause harm, although he did take the loss while delivering the first of back-to-back duds against the Royals the week before.
Ventura would have been justified to yank Reed from the closer role, since he had other options. He could use Brett Myers and let his expensive 2013 option vest (Ventura could have been more careful with earlier games finished), or he could go with Jesse Crain or Matt Thornton based on handedness.
Instead, Ventura tried Guillen's path -- keeping the same closer, but diminishing the role's importance.
It worked for one out on Monday, as Reed got away with a too-hittable 0-2 fastball to Austin Jackson. And it worked for two outs on Tuesday, with Reed getting Billy Butler to ground out with a full count, and then Salvador Perez to fly out with less suspense. That's two 1-2-3 ninth inning to preserve one-run victories by Reed + other reliever(s); Reed had one clean ninth inning over the previous two months by himself.
Of course, this strategy only works if there's a lefty to take the load off in the ninth. Thornton picked a great time to turn it up a notch with seven consecutive scoreless appearances. And he's around to work the ninth in part because Donnie Veal emerged to take care of difficult lefty situations earlier in the game.
Throw in some rebounds by Nate Jones and Jesse Crain, and Ventura has room to bend some conventions. If his hand were forced a week or two ago, it would reek of desperation -- especially with Omogrossos and Septimos flung haphazardly about the place. But now that he's back to using major-league pitchers until the game gets ridiculous and his key relievers have responded, his improvisation comes across as orderly and professional.
I don't know if Reed will rediscover his form before the season's over, but since he hasn't honed his slider and his velocity is closer to 93 than 96 lately, I'd hope Ventura isn't in any rush to give the whole inning back to him. And I'd hope Reed would understand a little bit better than Santos that it's in his best interest, too.