More Than Luke Warm…
Friday September 4th the Rangers are in Anaheim for the first of three games with the hated, but non consequential Angels. Down 3-0 in the top of the seventh inning, the Rangers had fought for a single run, giving them a slim chance at taking this game. A base runner in either of the final two frames means at the very least, the tying run gets to the plate, which on the road is a scenario most managers would be happy to see. The events that happened next, led myself and Evan Grant into a constructive Twitter discussion for a good hour, and even carried into the next day. Safe to say, I was hot!
One of several September call-ups for the Rangers, Luke Jackson, warmed in the bullpen.
Now, at this point I would like to be as transparent as possible; and let you, the reader, know my feelings about expanded rosters. In my opinion the rule was originally designed to give teams out of the race a chance to let younger guys get their feet wet at the major league level. What it has turned into is a rash of players contributing to pennant races that are not even eligible to play for that particular team, if they were to make it past 162 games. I have ideas to correct this, but that is for another time. I just felt it necessary information given my forthcoming opinion.
Back to the game.
Martin Perez had labored through six innings, (as has been the case with most of his starts since returning from Tommy John surgery), and the number nine hitter due for the Angels. Jeff Banister made the call for Jackson. The rookie right hander was about to step onto the mound. He would make not his first appearance of September, nor his first appearance in relief, but his first MLB appearance ever. In a two run game. On the road. Against a division foe. In a pennant race. Luke Jackson was going to throw his first MLB pitch EVER.
Now, the first batter, Taylor Featherson, basically is a moot point. In fact, with a .169/.227/.246, if Banny had wanted Yu Darvish to pitch left handed to him, I would have been ok with it. Luke gets Featherson to pop up to Odor. One out. Top of the order, Kole Calhoun. Calhoun hits .282/.329/.465 against right handers, and at this point, I’m now officially concerned that Luke Jackson is in the game. Calhoun singles, albeit the infield variety, he still is awarded first base by baseball rules. Next up, Mike Trout.
It is unfathomable to me, that a manager would let his rookie pitcher even look at Trout in the box, never mind, pitch to him. However, I’m a blogger and Jeff Banister is an MLB manager, so let’s at least go through the options. Keona Kela was being evaluated with a tender elbow, so let’s eliminate him first. The long man Anthony Bass is not an option for obvious reasons. Dyson had pitched three innings in two nights in San Diego, but did have a day off the day before, (team was off), and the way he induces ground balls, his pitch count is of little concern, if any at all. For the sake of this argument, let’s say he is unavailable. Ohlendorf, according to Evan Grant was not available, (I cannot find why he has said this, but maybe Evan will offer up that info after reading this). EDIT(Evan has explained that he reported earlier that evening of back issues for Ohlendorf; as relayed from the manager). That leaves us with Diekman, Freeman, and Faulkner. Andrew Faulkner is a rookie, with one batter more experience at this time than Luke Jackson. We can cross him off the list, or really this article and rant would lose all merit. We are running out of options, but this is different than not have ANY options. The manager sticks with Jackson. Trout walks. Pujols steps in.
I’ve gambled with my rookie and gotten one out. We now have a guy on base with two of the premier right-handed hitters in the league coming up. I would not have pitched Luke Jackson at all this night, given the situation, but at the very least he won’t face another batter tonight. Luke Jackson has an above average fastball that Trout and Pujols eat for breakfast, and a curve and change that both still need work. For me, Diekman is the play. Right handed hitters are hitting .221 off of him. I lay the game in Jake’s hands and see if my offense can mount the comeback in the top of the eighth. It’s survival at this point. We worry about what comes next if we get there. Depending how this goes, any combo of Diekman/Freeman pitch the eighth, (Freeman has been under-appreciated thus far by this fan base as whole), and maybe squeeze out a win, at the worst, we hope I’ve at least kept the game competitive for the last two innings. Instead, Luke induces a pop up from Pujols, but immediately gives up the dagger double to CJ Cron. Ball game.
Jeff Banister is the AL Manager of the Year in my opinion. In fact, I love the guy. Doesn’t mean we can’t question decisions from time to time, especially when it is a glaring miscalculation, as I believe was the case in this example. Good news is, the Baptism by Fire that LJ received that night, may pay dividends later this month. But this is a pennant race and a win in hand is better than two in the bush. Or a Bannyrooster28 in the hand is better… Hell you get the point…