In his tenure as Yankees manager, Joe Girardi has been pretty adept when it comes to optimizing his bullpen. A lot of relief arms have come and gone over the years, as they tend to do, but he always seems to get the most out of the hand he's dealt. When you have freaks like Mariano Rivera and David Robertson at your disposal it makes things easier, but Girardi's bullpen tactics should not be overlooked as a reason for its success.
Unlike his predecessor Joe Torre, Girardi doesn't tend to become overly dependent on one or two guys as the season wears on, neglecting the rest of the staff. For the most part, he's an equal opportunist when doling out innings, even in tight situations. He'll choose the next guy up out of the 'pen based on what's best for the situation rather than blindly trusting the same tired pitcher time and again. This keeps the opposition on its toes and, more importantly, keeps the arms fresh throughout the season. Just ask Paul Quantrill and Scott Proctor, among others.
There are situations where Girardi's democratic bullpen style can hurt the team though, and that situation arose this past Tuesday in Anaheim. Alfonso Soriano had just given the Yankees a 3-2 lead entering the bottom of the eighth inning in support of Hiroki Kuroda, who picked a good night to get himself back on track. Kuroda cruised past the first two batters of the inning but was more than 100 pitches deep, and Mike Trout was coming to the plate. Nobody would have faulted Girardi if he went to the 'pen but he stuck with the cruising Kuroda. Fair enough. Cue a triple from Trout and the winning run was at the plate in the form of a rejuvenated Albert Pujols, who is once again taking the league by storm.
This is the definition of a high leverage situation. If ever there was a time to bring in your best reliever to get an extra out before the ninth inning, this was absolutely it. David Robertson was even working on three days' rest, so it seemed like a golden opportunity. However, Girardi stuck to his unwritten rule that he won't use Robertson for more than one inning, so in came Shawn Kelley--the same Shawn Kelley who had imploded the night before by loading the bases with walks and eventually walking in the go-ahead run for the Angels. Predictably, Pujols singled in the tying run and put the Yanks in a dire situation, a situation that might have been avoided if the right man for the job entered the game.
In the top of the ninth, Girardi was bailed out by an unlikely source, as Brian Roberts homered and Robertson finally came in to seal the win against a softer part of the lineup. Most fans will see this as no harm, no foul and that this is just the way managers handle their closers nowadays. The insanity has to stop some time though. There's no reason that your best available pitcher shouldn't be pitching against one of the league's best hitters when the game is at its tipping point. Even if he's limited to just three outs, let him get one of those outs in that situation, saves be damned. If Kelley had to come in to get the last out of the game against the bottom of the Angels order then so be it. It's fair to say that's a better course of action than hoping Brian Roberts hits ninth inning home runs.
So it would behoove Joe Girardi to remember that he's got a pit bull in the 'pen that's ready and willing to take down the opposition's big dogs and that he should use him accordingly. It might just save him a few headaches, ulcers and tallies in the loss column.