Allow me to preface all of this by saying that managing a bullpen is very difficult for a manager. Relievers need off-days, they need to be used fairly consistently, they might have minor arm issues that allow them to work, but on a strict pitch limit…the list of things that a manager needs to deal with as it relates to a bullpen is almost endless. All of that said, for a guy who was a bench coach for the past three seasons, and has managed at the minor league level, Ricky seems to be in over his head in the early going.
It would be too much to knee-jerk a reaction to Wednesday’s game, where Hector Rondon blew his first save, allowing 2 runs (1 earned) in the 9th inning against the Yankees. But since that game was the second time where Rondon was asked to work in the 4th consecutive team game (the 1st was Sunday night, May 4 vs. St. Louis) , each time allowing two runs, there is a worthy discussion. Wednesday’s game is not the discussion point, either. It is Tuesday night’s game that is the discussion point. The 11 needless pitches he threw Tuesday night, on the heels of 18 on Sunday afternoon and 8 on Saturday afternoon is significant. The team off-day on Monday can only do so much to ease a tired arm. Workloads are cumulative. And 26 high stress pitches over the weekend did not magically disappear before Tuesday night. While the team off-day did Rondon some good, the likelihood that is arm was still recovering from the weekend is quite high.
What makes Tuesday night’s bullpen use even more puzzling is the fact that he had Wesley Wright, who had not pitched since May 15 before Wednesday’s game. He also had Carlos Villanueva, who has not pitched since May 13. With two outs in the 9th and a 5 run lead, Jose Veras, who had not pitched since last Friday was also available. With all of that in mind, and Renteria saying that Neil Ramirez was on a pitch limit Tuesday night, it is difficult to understand why none of those pitchers were used to work the 9th inning as a whole. And after Renteria did call on Ramirez, there does not appear to be a good reason why none of the three could be counted on to get one out in relief of Ramirez.
Long periods between outings is not an inconsistent theme for Rick Renteria to this point. Wesley Wright, aside from this last 6 day stretch that ended with 2 scoreless innings against the Yankees has a 9 day run of inactivity early on, not pitching between April 4 and April 13. It has been over a week since Carlos Villanueva has appeared. James Russell had a 10 day stretch between April 23 and May 3. What is puzzling about this is that it is not the same situation that Dale Sveum had, with a number of “imperfect options.” The bullpen has been quite effective in the early going, aside from Jose Veras.
As evidenced by Wednesday’s game, bullpen use is a critical factor in how games turn out. Would Hector Rondon have allowed 2 runs had he not pitched on Tuesday night? Any answer is speculation, but based on his history this season, the likely answer is no. And if we could correctly speculate that Rondon would have saved the game had he not been used so frequently, Renteria essentially mortgaged the potential save of Wednesday’s game for one out in the 9th inning of a game his team led by 5 runs when he had three pitchers who had not worked in nearly a week or more available.
While it is difficult to advocate being an arm-chair manager, it is obvious that there are some problems with the manner in which the bullpen is being used. That is not enough to advocate the manager losing his job for, especially after just over a quarter of his first season, but is does bring about some cause for concern. While the Cubs are going to lose more games than they win because of an obvious talent deficiency, it should be unacceptable to lose them to mismanagement in just the same way it should be unacceptable to lose them to mental lapses in the field or a poor approach at the plate.