Why no Scherzer on short rest
The Dodgers saw a chance to finish off the Braves in L.A., went against the trend and pushed their ace, Clayton Kershaw, up to pitch Game 4 on short rest. His quality start, albeit matched by Freddy Garcia of all pitchers, raised the question among some fans whether Tigers manager Jim Leyland might opt to do the same and move up Max Scherzer to start on three days’ rest and throw the Scherzer-Verlander tandem at the A’s to try to clinch. I can’t see it happening, for a few reasons:
1. Doug Fister isn’t the problem.
When the Dodgers bumped up Kershaw, they were doing so in place of Ricky Nolasco, who struggled badly down the stretch in the regular season (17 earned runs on 24 hits over 12 innings in his last three starts). Fister averaged seven innings in five September starts and posted a 3.00 ERA for the month, His numbers against Oakland are very good except for the 13-hit, five-inning, seven-run debacle in August, and he wasn’t the only pitcher the A’s roughed up in that series.
Fister’s postseason stats, moreover, reflect a pitcher who’s very comfortable on this stage. He’s 2-2 with a 2.97 ERA in six playoff outings since 2011. He gave up three earned runs over 19 1/3 innings in three postseason outings last year. He has a win in an elimination game, having topped the Yankees in Game 5 of the 2011 ALDS.
The Tigers’ concerns aren’t with Fister. It’s with the offense trying to provide him run support.
2. Jim Leyland hasn’t started a pitcher on short rest.
This debate has come up before. Google “Justin Verlander short rest” and you can see the previous cases. It came up during last year’s World Series. It came up during the ALCS two years ago. It came up down the stretch in 2009, when Alfredo Figaro made his infamous spot start against the White Sox on the next-to-last day of the regular season. Go back to 2006, and Leyland started then-rookie Verlander in Game 5 rather than moving up Kenny Rogers (who could’ve started on regular rest in that one, thanks to a rainout). Debate all you want whether Leyland should have started his ace in those cases, but he has been consistent with this. Leyland hasn’t started his guys on short rest. He takes a lot of pride in not getting his starting pitchers injured, and this is part of it with him.
3. Scherzer extended his outing near the end of Game 1.
Scherzer takes a lot of pride in his final 15 pitches, having enough left in his arm to finish off an outing. Usually that means well-located fastballs. In the case of Game 1, however, manager Jim Leyland was checking on him after Yoenis Cespedes’ home run on his 105th pitch of the night. He retired the side from there on 13 pitches, but ended up with 118 on the night. With that outing, too, he pushed his innings total to 221 1/3 on the season, already topping his totals from last year and 2011.
That said, Kershaw came back on short rest after throwing 124 pitches in Game 1 of Dodgers-Braves. Don Mattingly took him out at 91 pitches over six innings last night, leaving in a 2-2 game. It would be difficult to see Scherzer, or any Tigers pitcher, going 100 pitches on short rest, which would leave the Tigers bullpen to cover the rest.
4. The stats don’t support it.
You probably heard these stats already in the Kershaw debate, but here they are again from Gerry Fraley:
Since 2000, pitchers who start a post-season game on less than 4 days rest are 20-32 with a 4.97 ERA in 82 starts.
— Gerry Fraley (@gfraley) October 7, 2013
Keep in mind, that was before Kershaw’s performance, which would better that ERA a bit but not the record. As for team records, here was Ken Rosenthal’s info from yesterday (again not including Kershaw):
Forgive me @MrBrianKenny: Tweeps want pitcher and team record for post-season starters on 3 days rest since ’95. Pitcher: 20-31, team 29-48.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) October 7, 2013
Now, as others have pointed out, Kershaw is in a different category than a lot of those guys who make up those statistics. This season for Scherzer arguably does as well, even though he doesn’t have the same track record as Scherzer. At the same time, though, managers don’t tend to want to see bad pitchers pitch sooner.
5. It’s the Division Series.
There’s a long way to go this postseason. And if the Tigers are fortunate enough to beat the A’s the next two games and advance, they have a lot of long outings ahead. While one can argue that you worry about the next round when you get there, there’s some planning that has to go into it. And there’s risk and reward to weigh.
If the Tigers get through this, they have a chance to set up their rotation for the ALCS to have Verlander starting Games 1 and 5. Scherzer, meanwhile, could come back to start Game 3 on regular rest and be in line for a potential Game 7.