Robin Ventura's month of tough choices continues, and he continues to be on the wrong end of them.
On Tuesday, he chose to debut Carlos Rodon in the sixth inning with runners on the corners and two outs of a game the White Sox trailed by one run. It didn't go well -- Rodon walked Brandon Moss on four pitches, then gave up a bases loaded single to Ryan Raburn that put the game out of reach.
Continue the second-guessing.
"He’s pitched in some big games," Ventura said. "He’s pitched in big spots before. So for him, I think its just being in the big leagues. He was amped up and letting it fly.
He was pretty amped up and couldn’t really get it the way he wanted to and place it. But he’s up here for that reason."
"Maybe I was overthrowing, but there are no excuses," he said. "I just have to be good in that situation."
It's a legitimate question whether Ventura should have put Rodon in that spot. But let's start by saying that sticking with Hector Noesi would have been a wrong move in its own right.
Noesi was pretty much a fastball-changeup pitcher all night, and it worked for him over most of the first five innings. But hey, take a look at his velocities over the course of the game:
His fastball went from mid-90s to low-90s, and the gap between that and his changeup narrowed at a similar rate. That's perilous territory, especially for a guy who gives up homers facing a guy who makes his money hitting them against righties.
Yes, Noesi struck out Moss twice. But there's a reason the Times Through the Order Penalty exists, and when it suddenly strikes, it leaves the manager rationalizing it with quotes like this:
"He had been through that part of the lineup, throwing pretty good stuff to that part of the lineup. Even with [hitter] early on, he had him swinging and missing. You take the known entity there of him facing him and seeing how it's going tonight. It didn't happen tonight."
That was about John Danks giving up a game-tying homer to Josh Hamilton last July. We saw plenty of that last year -- getting bit late because of what happened early -- and it was one of the most frustrating aspects of Ventura's managing last year. You can try to pick it apart and say, "Yeah, well it would've been OK this time," but then:
- That exceptionalist attitude is exactly what leads to those slow-hook disasters.
- That's a lot of trust placed in a pitcher who isn't supposed to be in the rotation by the All-Star break.
So I don't blame Ventura for going to the bullpen, and I'm not going to get hung up on the results of this individual case given the number of times the opposite course of action blew up on him last season. Otherwise, we may as well dedicate April 21, 2015, as The Day We Suddenly Had Full Faith In A Fatiguing Hector Noesi.
From that point on, the road to Rodon is more or less straightforward -- Ventura wanted the lefty-lefty advantage. This might have been a situation for Dan Jennings, but he's working through a sore hip, and his outing on Monday ended shortly after an awkward landing on the mound. The Sox girded Rodon's loins for action in his place.
That's not entirely unique to Ventura, either. Chris Sale made his debut under similar circumstances. On Aug. 6, 2010, he entered the eighth inning of a 1-1 ballgame in Baltimore. Like Rodon, he walked the leadoff man on four pitches. Like Rodon, he gave up a single to the next batter (Nick Markakis).
The key difference: Ozzie Guillen also had Tony Pena warming up. After Sale failed to retire the lefty, Guillen called for Pena, who immediately ramped up the degree of difficulty with a wild pitch, yet somehow escaped it unscathed.
In terms of this individual game, that's where I'd start disagreeing with Ventura. It probably would've been cool to have Zach Putnam or Jake Petricka ready to tag in. But Ventura prioritized initiating Rodon with an extended appearance...
"You know you’re probably getting him into the game," manager Robin Ventura said. "Hector’s up there around 100 pitches, so [Rodon] came in, he was pretty amped up and couldn’t really get it going the way he wanted to and place it. But he’s up here for that reason, being able to come in and fill some innings."
... so there you go.
It ends up being a decision that looks ill-advised in isolation, but when the lineup is sputtering, it's going to make every failure elsewhere look more crucial and second-guessable. The offense has posted zeroes in 24 of its last 27 innings, so waiting for the perfect low-leverage situation might leave them sleeping on a bench at the bus station.
Add it all up -- the opposite decision being a mistake Ventura's made numerous times before, the handedness consideration, the commitment to more than one batter, and the fact that they were already trailing thanks to another day of bad plate appearances -- and this doesn't make me boil over.
I'd probably be more irked if Noesi gave up a hit to Moss, and I'm not all that concerned about any lasting ramifications for Rodon. He says he's now acquainted with the role:
"I learned the process and how to get ready for it; that’s basically it,’ Rodon said. "After this one time, I understand what to do."
That seemed to be the case for Sale. After he failed his first test, he bounced back with a scoreless inning in his next outing, and was on his way to undressing Joe Mauer in a way Hawk Harrelson still talks about.