Game 17: When blisters pop and bullpens stretch
The Tigers called up Matt Boyd to serve as an innings eater Sunday in case they had another early exit from a starter tax their bullpen. Shane Greene’s fourth-inning departure with a busted blister was an early exit and tested a bullpen that didn’t have Kyle Ryan available.
Given the need for long relief, however, Brad Ausmus went with Drew VerHagen over Boyd. Moreover, he stuck with VerHagen after the three-run fourth, hoping to get another inning out of him. VerHagen ended up retiring four of the 12 Cleveland batters he faced.
What gives? My initial reaction was that Boyd needs a lot more time to warm up, being a starter, and no extra warmup time given an injury replacement could allow him to replicate that on the spot. My next reaction was that Boyd is used to entering with a clean inning rather than with runners on.
Ausmus, though, cited a trust factor with VerHagen, which was more related to the second part than the first.
“The truth is, VerHagen’s pitched in tight situations before,” Ausmus said. “Felt like if VerHagen could get through that inning, get through a couple innings — it would be four, five — if we could get a lead, now we’d still have those guys at the back end that might have the ability to hold the lead.”
VerHagen said he got a heads-up an inning earlier to be ready. So even if Ausmus made the change before the fourth inning began, VerHagen was going to be his guy.
Once the Indians got hits against him, Ausmus was looking for a double play, which brought him back to square one.
“They got a couple hits off VerHagen,” Ausmus continued, “but who gets ground balls at a better rate than anyone else in our bullpen? Well, the guy standing on the mound, Drew VerHagen, which is kind of why I stuck with him hoping he got a ground ball double play and get out of it. Unfortunately the ground ball through the right side found a hole, and then a soft line drive up the middle. But the thought process was keep the game at 0-0 with one of our relievers that’s been here and that we have faith in. It just didn’t work today.”
Said VerHagen: “That’s kind of what I make my living off, being aggressive, attacking hitters, and forcing them to hit [the ball] on the ground. And if you look at the hits, most of them are on the ground. So I’ll continue my approach and hope for better next time.”
Boyd eventually did enter with two runners on, and allowed one of them to score. He did eat up the remaining innings in the game, after which he was optioned back to Toledo for Jose Valdez to serve as a placeholder reliever for the next few days until Francisco Rodriguez returns. Next time we see Boyd could well be as a starter if Shane Greene isn’t ready in five days.
Would it have been a different outcome had VerHagen and Boyd pitched in reverse order? Probably not, the way this series went. But worth noting why Ausmus sequenced it the way he did. Also worth noting that VerHagen has now pitched in every inning from the fourth to the 10th at some point already this season. He’s looking very much like this year’s Alex Wilson, even with Wilson back from the disabled list.