One thing that came to mind Monday night after Mike Pelfrey gave up a second consecutive homer that gave the Angels the lead was, “Hey, at least it’s on the road.” After all, one way to spare a tired bullpen is to make the ninth inning unnecessary.
Another thing that came to mind? July 2, 2014, when John Danks gave up a game-tying homer in the eighth inning to Anaheim’s Josh Hamilton on his 120th pitch of the evening. That was one of many times Robin Ventura failed to heed the Times Through the Order Penalty — hell, it was the third time against the Angels that season — and yet two-plus years remained on his tenure.
Ventura never seemed to grasp this aspect, especially in the aftermath. He always defended the decision as if it was the first time it didn’t work out (“it’s just one of those where...”). For instance, his comments after the Danks game...
You take what you've seen tonight and put it out there. He felt strong, talking to him in between the seventh and eighth, he felt great. [...] Veteran guy, he's pretty up front when he's feeling good and when he's not. Tonight, that pitch got him.
... sounded much like his explanation for leaving Jeff Samardzija in four batters too long and blowing a lead against the Tigers a year later:
"You are looking at where (Samardzija's) pitch count was and then they didn't really get much going off of him," Ventura said of leaving Samardzija in for the eighth. "I think at that point they had two hits. He was very strong as he was going through that. They can strike, and they can strike quick."
I wouldn’t project Ventura’s postgame quotes to fully reflect his attitude toward this recurring problem. His natural inclination was to be opaque in most matters. However, given enough incidents, reacting the same way to the same mistake made him look obtuse in the long run.
And all of this came to mind when reading Rick Renteria’s comments after Monday’s loss. It had the hallmarks of a Ventura TTOP disappointment, as Renteria let Pelfrey blow past one caution sign after another before sailing off the end of the half-completed bridge by facing Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout a third time.
But Renteria’s explanation couldn’t have sounded more different:
“I thought Pelf gave us a nice four-plus innings,” Renteria said. “Really, he gave us enough to do what we needed to do. I had those guys out there ready to pick him up, and I didn’t. I went against my better judgment. We had (Dan Jennings) ready for Calhoun, and we had our righty ready. So that’s not any of their faults but mine. At least it would have given us a better chance. I couldn’t guarantee that the outcome would have been what we wanted, but I think the matchups would have been better, and pretty much that’s it.”
Given the context — a string of short starts, heavy reliance on relievers, no off days for another week-plus, a month into a rebuilding season — Renteria’s desire to get five innings out of Pelfrey is a lot more understandable than Ventura’s stubborn drives to get eight innings out of Danks or Samardzija. I wouldn’t have blamed Renteria for pulling a page out of Ventura playbook, something like:
“Pelf had looked good for four innings. Things started to get away from him, but he still looked strong, and he handled Calhoun and Trout the first two times, and you’re going by how things look. It’s just one of those things where it worked against us.”
Instead, he laid out his thinking in a way that highlighted his passivity as the inning’s biggest problem, and that’s somehow assuring.
Maybe it’s because Renteria is being internally consistent. During his introductory press conference in October, he specifically mentioned hook length when it came to his approach to managing, saying, “I kinda hope to be able to pull a pitcher one pitch too soon rather than one pitch too late.”
That was one of the few ways he could separate himself from Ventura months before he’d get a chance to take charge, and as Monday showed, lifting a starter can be easier said than done. Nevertheless, one can still identify a departure between the managers. Renteria fell into the same trap Ventura frequently found on Monday, but it’s a mistake he sounds far less comfortable courting.