Cleveland manager Terry Francona, who has won two World Series with Boston, is doing something interesting with his newly-acquired All-Star closer Andrew Miller.
His closer is not always pitching in the ninth.
In fact, in Miller’s twelve appearances with Cleveland so far, he has actually closed out a game four times—in perfect fashion—earning a win and three saves.
Instead of slavishly saving his best relief pitcher for the ninth inning, Francona uses his closer to close out rallies. And quite often those happen in the seventh or eight innings.
Ever since Chicago Tribune sportswriter Jerome Holtzman invented the save statistic—a well-intentioned attempt to give credit to relief pitchers—it has corrupted how managers use the bullpen and their closers, and Francona is bucking the trend.
It makes perfectly good sense, too. The designations of sixth-inning guy, seventh-inning guy, eighth-inning guy, and closer go out the window when the game is not going the way you had hoped. Plans can go awry. Miguel Cabrera can come up to bat in game-changing situations in the seventh.
Far too many baseball games are lost in the seventh or eighth inning with lesser relievers while the closer sits in the bullpen watching the lead slip away.
Imagine if a manager had a runner on first and second, two outs in the seventh, down a couple of runs, and he has Mike Trout on the bench. He decides against using Trout in that situation. “No, Trout is my best pinch hitter, I need to save him for the ninth inning if I get a man on base so he can tie the game with one swing of the bat.” Instead, he brings in Adam Rosales to pinch hit. And they lose because they never get a runner on in the ninth and Mike Trout never gets off the bench.
As crazy as that sounds, that’s pretty much how every manager in baseball handles his bullpen, and you can “thank” Tony LaRussa for that.
Francona’s idea is to pitch his best reliever, one of the most dominating in the game, in high-leverage, game -on-the-line situations, when, as he says, the opponent’s most dangerous hitters are lurking. He won’t wait arbitrarily until the ninth inning in a meaningless three-run situation against the bottom of the order.
So games that were before slipping away in the late innings are now locked down.
By a closer.
Who closes rallies.
Doug Fister (12-9, 3.60) vs. A. J. Griffin (6-3, 4.39)
Game time: 7:05
How the Astros hit against Griffin.
How the Rangers hit against Fister.