Why Ausmus went to his bullpen in the 8th
Rick Porcello struck out the side in his seventh and final inning Sunday afternoon, including Howie Kendrick swinging and missing at a changeup for his 99th pitch of the game. He had the bottom of the Angels batting order due up in the eighth, and he had retired eight of nine batters since his errant pickoff throw set off chaos that led to a run.
So why did Brad Ausmus turn to Joba Chamberlain for the eighth inning? It wasn’t about where Porcello was at, but where he — and correspondingly, the bullpen — would’ve been had the Angels started a rally.
“You send him back out and a couple runners get on, he’s at 110 pitches and now you have to bring in somebody in the middle of an inning with [runners at] first and third or first and second,” Ausmus said. “I’d much rather just start [Chamberlain] with a fresh inning, knowing that the chance of Ricky getting through it — the way he pitched, he could have — you just don’t want to take that risk. …
“He was fine in the seventh, but he gets into that no-mans land in terms of pitch count.”
This might seem like a little shift in thinking from Ausmus, who has tended to give his starters the benefit of the doubt but has in turn given his relievers the tight situations to inherit when things don’t work out. With Chamberlain, however, it’s pretty standard. Nine of his 10 outings in July have begun at the start of an inning, last Wednesday’s game at Arizona being the exception. He has entered with a runner on base just three times since May 7. By contrast, Al Alburquerque has entered with runners on base in his last five outings.
When there’s an eighth-inning lead to hold, Chamberlain usually gets the entire inning. There’s a reason for that.
“Joba’s been rock solid in the eighth inning,” Ausmus said.
While Porcello was rolling, meanwhile, there were minor signs of risk heading into the eighth. Left-handed hitting Efren Navarro was due to lead off the inning, with switch-hitting catcher Hank Conger up third. And before Porcello struck out the side, four of his previous five outs had come on fly balls or line drives, the one exception a strikeout of Albert Pujols.
Would those signs have led Ausmus to call it a day for his other starting pitchers? That might depend on the pitcher. He let Porcello go the distance in Texas last month despite an esclating pitch count, but he had a six-run lead to play with there. He let Porcello finish out a 3-0 shutout five days later, but his pitch count was so low there wasn’t much risk involved. As it is, though, Porcello hasn’t seen 100 pitches in an outing since the shutout in Texas, a streak of five consecutive starts.
“I felt good,” Porcello said Sunday, “but Brad wanted to take me out, so that’s understood.”