Questioning Mike Matheny: Five Out Save

Catchers as Managers - Mike Matheny

The 2017 Major League Baseball season is upon us and in full swing. The St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs were part of a trio of games to officially open the season on Sunday. Mike Matheny decided to put all his trust on day one in a single arm in his bullpen.

And with that, we bring back one of our favorite features here on i70. Let’s second guess the manager.

Day one of the season seems like an odd time to shorten your bullpen. With an entire staff available to pitch and the traditional off day following the opener, it may be one of the few days in the baseball season that your full roster is ready to go. The ace of the staff starts the game, everyone is fresh and excited and dreams of staying in first place from Game 1 to Game 162 are in full swing.

The ace of the Cardinals’ staff lived up to the title. Carlos Martinez was chosen to start Opening Day, due in large part to his stellar 2016 campaign. There would be no questioning Matheny’s decision to start Martinez. The hurler put up 7.1 strong innings, yielding six hits and no walks while striking out 10. His 105 pitch campaign featured 68 strikes. It was a dominating and statement making outing.

Sending Martinez to the mound for the eighth inning might have been a decision worthy of questioning itself. After allowing Willson Contreras and Javier Baez to reach base, the move to the bullpen was made. Much to the surprise of many, it was the Cardinals’ closer called upon to step into the game.

The game is changing a bit. Matchup based pitching changes are becoming far more normal. Using a “closer” in a tight situation in the 8th inning is not entirely unheard of. It is a high pressure situation that calls for a shut down pitcher to come in and. quite literally, save the game.

Seung Hwan Oh did just that. Despite hitting the first batter to load the bases, he promptly retired the next two hitters to escape the inning unscathed and give the Cardinals the opportunity to take home a winner to start the season.

Randall Grichuk then stepped up in the bottom of the inning to give the Cardinals some much needed insurance in the form of a two-run home run to extend the lead to 3-0. Things were looking pretty good.

The ninth inning rolled around. Despite the above mentioned plethora of pitching options, Matheny sent Oh back to the mound to finish off the game. I can only assume this was due to the mindset that a closer should finish the game. In the manager’s defense, the upcoming hitters for the Cubs – Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell and Jason Heyward – would suggest that a right handed pitcher to start the inning would be preferred.

All things considered, there were multiple arms still available to the Cardinals. There was no reason to run Oh back out to the mound, especially with the extra cushion of a now three-run lead. Matt Bowman, Jonathan Broxton, Miguel Socolovich or Sam Tuivailala were all perfectly capable in this situation.

Instead, Oh returned to the mound and started the ninth the same way he started his appearance – by hitting a batter, this time Zobrist. After a strikeout and a play recorded as a hit despite Matt Carpenter’s mishandling of a ground ball, Oh surrendered the game tying home run to Contreras.

The Cardinals produced some heroics of their own in the bottom of the ninth, sending the home town crowd of 47,566 home with a win. Officially, Oh left the game with the win that Martinez rightfully deserved.

Let’s hope “Questioning Matheny” is a fun article that isn’t produced all that often this season.

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.
Follow him on Twitter to discuss all things baseball related.

Author: Bill Ivie

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