The situation: Top of the sixth, 0-0 game. 7-8-9 in the Marlins order coming to the plate.
The decision: TLR goes to Blake Hawksworth to pitch the sixth.
The outcome: Hawksworth has a rough outing, allowing two singles, walking the pitcher (who was trying to sacrifice), and then a sacrifice and an RBI single in the sixth, before permitting a pair of homers in the seventh.
The analysis: At this point in the game, TLR understandably wants to go to a pitcher who can get more than a batter or two, and ideally more than an inning. It’s the role that two years ago, Kyle McClellan had — get a close game from the sixth to the eighth — and it can be a very important and valuable role.
The inning started with two right-handed hitters, so the two lefties were both out, and it’s obviously not going to be Ryan Franklin or McClellan at this point in the game. That leaves three options: Hawksworth, Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte.
Motte has moved up the food chain a bit, and they also like having his strikeout ability to put out fires with runners on base. So to narrow it further, it’s pretty strictly a question of Boggs vs. Hawksworth at this point.
And the thing is, if they do take the lead, there’s a good chance the other one won’t pitch. Ideally, one of the two righties gets you at least into the seventh before you hand off to the guys who get you home.
Hawksworth somewhat irritatedly dismissed the notion that he’s “struggling,” pointing to his 2.35 ERA entering the game, but he’s been much less effective in May than he was in April. Boggs, meanwhile, had been excellent over his previous 11 appearances — 11 2/3 innings, 12 Ks, 5 BB, 3 runs.
And while Hawksworth is nominally the long man on the staff, Boggs has gone 2+ innings as many times (three) as Hawksworth has this year. They were both rested and fully available, as was evidenced when Boggs pitched the final two innings.
The comment: “I’m going inning to inning. Go inning to inning and see how he’s throwing.” — La Russa
My verdict: I understand the idea that every pitcher in the bullpen needs to be able to get big outs, because at some point they’re all going to be asked to. I understand the hesitance to name Hawksworth, or any pitcher, the long man or the mopup man.
But the results don’t lie, and Hawksworth is having a tough May while Boggs is coming on strong. Those are high-leverage innings, even though it’s the sixth, and you need to go to the guy with the best chance of keeping the tie game intact. From the two viable choices, that guy is Boggs right now.
Moreover, to at least some degree, Hawskworth is on the roster in order to pitch those long innings in ugly games. Somebody has to be that guy. Somebody has to be the pitcher that you don’t mind using for 3-4 innings in a blowout, so that the next day, when it’s a tight game, you can use someone
As I’ve written in previous editions of this feature, they didn’t lose because of this decision. They lost because they scored two runs, and in some small part because they had to ask for four innings from the relief corps. But it’s definitely my opinion that going to Boggs in the sixth would have increased the chances of winning this game.