The situation: Top of the fifth inning, Cardinals trailing, 4-0. Skip Schumaker and Jason LaRue reach base to open the inning, so St. Louis has runners on first and second with no outs and the eighth and ninth spots coming to bat. Ryan Ludwick is among the hitters available on the bench.
The decision: Brad Penny and Tyler Greene were both left in to hit.
The outcome: Penny singles and Greene hits into a run-scoring force play, but Colby Rasmus hits into a fielders choice and Jon Jay strikes out. The Cardinals get only one run from the inning, and Penny lasts only one more inning.
The analysis: Penny had not been sharp over the first four innings. He gave up three more runs in the fifth, and it really wasn’t a surprise. He just didn’t have a good game. So there’s a case to be made that with a chance to change the dynamic of the game, it’s time to go to Ludwick.
Another alternative was to hit Ludwick for Greene with the bases loaded. The opportunity is even bigger there, obviously, since there are three on instead of two. At the same time, it was clear that TLR didn’t want Brendan Ryan to play in this game. If you hit for Greene, you’re looking at Ryan for the next five innings, and that’s an outcome that wasn’t very desirable for the manager.
TLR’s pattern over the years has been to “save a bullet.” When he has a major weapon on his bench, someone like Ludwick, he prefers to have that player available in the eighth or ninth.
That doesn’t seem to have been the deciding factor today, though. Instead, it seems that La Russa simply had some players that he really wanted to rest or keep out of the game. By going to the bench in the fifth, he might have forfeited that chance.
The comment: “If the game had gotten away, I was going to use the other guys to give a couple guys off.”
My verdict: If TLR really prioritized the off day for his guys that highly, I can’t argue with that notion. He knows his players’ health and fitness better than I do, and if they needed the rest in the middle of a stretch of 13 days without an off day, that’s a defensible stance. I’m just not entirely sold that it would have jeopardized that off day so much. I think you could have used Ludwick as a pinch-hitter there and not wrecked the whole afternoon’s plan.
And if it was simply tactical, I definitely disagree. I would have hit for Penny, even though Penny got a hit. He was clearly scuffling, and if you’re going to ask for 3-4 innings from the bullpen, why not ask for 4-5? That’s your chance to give the game a totally different look on one swing.
Once Penny stayed in, I would not have hit for Greene. Ryan is really, really fighting it right now, and I’m all on board with giving him the full day.