Revisiting The Six Man Bullpen
The M’s left spring training with just six relievers, believing that their defense could help keep pitchers in the game long enough to make it work. It didn’t, and a few short outings by Ian Snell and Ryan Rowland-Smith led to the end of the experiment after just three games, when Jesus Colome was called up to serve as an additional long reliever. He pitched 3 innings on April 8th, saving the bullpen before they went to Texas, and at that point, it seemed like the team would need to stick with a seven man bullpen to make up for some questions in the rotation.
Since that day, the M’s have played 12 games. Jesus Colome has pitched in two of them, throwing a grand total of three innings. Nearly the entire rotation has pitched well, and the bullpen has actually been underworked. In fact, since April 9th, here are the games pitched by each of the members of the Mariner bullpen:
During this stretch, Aardsma, League, and Kelley have each pitched on back to back days one time each, while the other four have not had to pull duty in consecutive games. This covers 12 games with just one off day in that stretch. The Mariners have barely needed six relievers for the last two weeks, and they certainly didn’t need seven.
Now, of course, it was impossible to know any of this ahead of time. At the time they made the decision, they couldn’t have foreseen how well Fister and Vargas were going to pitch, so I don’t blame them for making the move when they did. However, given what we now know, and what is coming up, it’s time to consider going back to the six man bullpen.
The Mariners are off today, then play six straight games against the White Sox (who can’t hit) and the Royals (who have forgotten that they can’t hit, but will remember soon). This is followed by another off-day, and then the team comes home for a three game set against Texas. In the first game of that series, Cliff Lee returns from the DL, bolstering the pitching staff even more. And the team follows that series with yet another off-day.
Nine games in twelve days, with Lee’s return included in that stretch, and the first six games coming against relatively easy opponents. If ever the Mariners could go with a six man bullpen, these next two weeks are it. But it’s not just a good idea because they’re not likely to need Jesus Colome, but because they could really, really use that roster spot.
Milton Bradley is dinged up, which is no big surprise. When he’s not in the line-up or has to leave early, the M’s have to choose between Eric Byrnes or Matt Tuiasosopo to play left field, with the other acting as the only real reserve for the rest of the roster. As we saw the last few days, that creates some problems, especially when a right-handed pitcher is on the hill. The Mariners can’t afford to be punting offense from left field, not when they’re already punting it from DH, catcher, and shortstop (the last few days notwithstanding).
The Mariners are walking a pretty tight rope with the position players. What do you do if Gutierrez’s groin acts up again on the road trip? Stick Byrnes in center and hope like crazy that Bradley can play an entire game, I guess, and if Rowland-Smith or Vargas are pitching, apologize for the outfield defense you’ve given them. It’s not just worst case scenarios, either. If Bradley needs another day off, you can’t pinch hit or pinch run for anyone on the roster, no matter the situation, because whichever of Tui/Byrnes isn’t already in the line-up is the backup for everyone else. If Junior or Kotchman are on third base with one out in the ninth inning of a close game, Wak is then left with the decision of whether to use his only backup to try and increase the odds of scoring that run.
From a tactical standpoint, this bench is short a couple of players. Since they’re committed to the Hugging DH Tandem for now, they can’t entirely fix it, but they can at least make the situation better.
DFA Colome, bring Langerhans back up, and give the six man bullpen another try. See if they can get through KC and Chicago with off-days on either side of the six game stretch. If it’s a disaster again, you can easily go back to the seven man bullpen in a week when Lee comes off the DL. But at least you’d have given it a real shot, with a rested bullpen and a somewhat solidified rotation, and used the roster spot on an area of the team that could actually use some help.
Jesus Colome isn’t going to help the Mariners win anything in the next week. He might not even pitch again before he’s DFA’d when Lee returns. Langerhans, though, could serve an actual purpose, give the team an outfielder who can play against RHPs, a left-handed bat off the bench for late game situations, and another pinch runner for situations where its needed. And if the M’s continue to pitch like they have, the six man bullpen can work, especially once Lee returns to the rotation.
The M’s felt like it was worth a try three weeks ago. Now, they’re actually in a position to make it work. I know they’re not going to go back to the six man bullpen, but they should.