Blame Gaming: Bullpen Management Edition

If you missed the series finale in Boston, allow me to quickly recap the bottom of the 9th inning…

Michael Kirkman entered with the game tied at 3. He threw 1 pitch, which was hit hard for a double. Then he intentionally walked someone. Then he threw another pitch, which David Ortiz hit over the wall for a 3-run walk-off homerun.

Before the ball even landed, Twitter was at it again, blasting Ron Washington for his poor in-game management. As is often the case, I fail to see exactly what Wash did or didn’t do to lose the game.

Pretty much the whole bullpen had been used by that point. Robbie Ross got 1 out in the 7th, but loaded the bases in the process. Jason Frasor came in to attempt to put out Ross’ fire. Tanner Scheppers pitched the 8th for his 2nd appearance in as many games. Neal Cotts was unavailable after throwing 22 pitches the night before.

That left Kirkman, Joe Nathan, and long-man Ross Wolf.

Managers don’t use closers in the 9th inning in a tie game on the road. You might think that’s stupid, but that’s just the way the game is played nowadays. A case could also be made for not burning your long-man so early, especially with a rookie scheduled to start the next day.

That left Kirkman, which is actually the bigger issue here. Why, I wonder, is Michael Kirkman still on this team?

His ERA is now a robust 8.18. Almost half of his inherited runners have scored. You can’t trust him with a lead, be it 1 run or 10. You can’t expect him to get outs to save the other arms in the ‘pen, or even to just find the strike zone consistently.

Part of the blame may fall on Wash for using him at all, but what else is there to do? It’s impossible to hide an ineffective bullpen arm forever. The so-called winning pieces (Ross, Cotts, Scheppers, and Nathan) can’t pitch every single night. Sometimes the manager’s hands are tied.

Sometimes you just have to run the guy out there and hope he doesn’t fall on his face, which is actually what Kirkman does most of the time.

If I had to guess, I’d say the front office is afraid of losing Kirkman, who is out of options and could be claimed by any other team if he’s sent to Round Rock. It’s all well and good if you think he can regain his form and be an asset down the road, but his abysmal performance is hurting the team now.

Jon Daniels has got to find a solution, creative or otherwise, because Kirkman can’t seem to get it done. Keeping him on the big league roster for the sake of it isn’t doing anybody any good.

Press on, Rangers fans.

Mike Luna is a Staff Writer for He can be reached at or on Twitter @twbbg.
Mike Luna

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