Taking apart Monday’s walkoff loss
I wrote Monday’s game story from the standpoint that if you were going to trust in a Tigers reliever other than Jose Valverde or Joaquin Benoit to protect a ninth-inning lead, it would’ve been Octavio Dotel, both for his experience as a former closer and in his numbers as a non-closing reliever this year. If not him, who? After all, this is the guy the Tigers signed to provide another veteran presence in the bullpen.
That was the decision for the ninth inning. It’s the decisions leading up to that which make it a little more complicated.
Nobody on the Tigers pitching staff owns right-handed hitters like Dotel has over at least the last couple years. And the one lefty Dotel was due to face, Ichiro Suzuki, was 1-for-10 with five strikeouts lifetime against him. By comparison, Ichiro is 5-for-11 off Phil Coke, including 4-for-6 since the start of last season.
Overall, Dotel had gotten off to a better start than any Tigers reliever not named Duane Below. If you were going to go to the bullpen for the ninth, even with Phil Coke available, Dotel was the most logical option.
The previous inning, the Mariners had three straight left-handed hitters coming up, which made that Coke’s territory. Yes, he could have easily kept Fister in to at least start the eighth, but unless Fister was going to get the chance to go for a complete game, that probably wouldn’t have changed the choice of Dotel for the ninth.
Leyland had not stated any sort of pitch count for Fister, though his move to pull Fister after 73 pitches suggested there might have been a count in mind. (Update: Fister was on a pitch count of 75-85) That said, Fister’s seventh inning was his only one without a ground-ball out. He got two outs on fly balls to left, a well-hit double to left from John Jaso, then a hard-struck line drive out off the bat of Justin Smoak caught (again) by Andy Dirks in left.
If he had another 13-pitch inning to get through the eighth, he would’ve had 86 pitches heading into the ninth with the middle of the Mariners order coming up. Would he have been allowed to head towards 100 pitches in his first start back? Doubt it. That would’ve led to Dotel. The one difference is that Coke would have been available in the ninth once it became clear that Dotel didn’t have it, though that change still might not have happened until after Montero’s double.
The two questions on resting the bullpen:
- Why rest Valverde: He pitched all three games against the White Sox over the weekend, totaling 55 pitches. Under those circumstances, Leyland has made it clear that Valverde won’t pitch a fourth consecutive day.
- Why rest Benoit: That is arguably a more interesting question. He had pitched the previous two games against the White Sox, but he had rested the previous two days before that. He pitched on three consecutive days just twice last season, and the more recent of those stretches began with a one-pitch outing against the Angels. He had combined for 29 pitches over the last two days.