The Pirates lost to the San Diego Padres 7-5 on Tuesday night when Chase Headley launched a two-run, 10th inning home run.
In the bottom of the eighth, with the Bucs trailing 4-3 and facing one last chance to tie the game, Clint Hurdle sent Chad Qualls to the mound. Qualls entered the game with a 5.28 ERA on the season. After warming up alongside Qualls the previous inning, Jason Grilli and his 2.38 ERA watched from the bullpen. Qualls quickly allowed a leadoff double to Will Venable, who then moved to third on a ground out. The situation screamed for a strikeout, but Hurdle stuck with Qualls. Qualls has struck out 12.1% of the batters he has faced this year, while Grilli has struck out 38.5% of opposing hitters. Carlos Quentin lifted a fly ball to left and the Padres extended their lead to 5-3.
In the bottom of the 10th inning, with the score tied and the Padres’ 2-3-4 hitters due up, Hurdle went with the recently recalled Daniel McCutchen while closer Joel Hanrahan watched from the bullpen. Venable walked, stole second and came around on Headley’s game-winning blast.
In both of these situations, Hurdle went with an inferior pitcher while better options were available in the bullpen. This led me to research something I had been wanting to research for weeks. Here is Hurdle’s usage of Grilli and Hanrahan this season, based on the score of the game when each pitcher took the mound.
|Leading by 3+ runs||10|
|Leading by 1-2 runs||25|
|Losing by 1-2 runs||5|
|Losing by 3+ runs||
|Leading by 3+ runs||17|
|Leading by 1-2 runs||26|
|Losing by 1-2 runs||0|
|Losing by 3+ runs||2|
I have spent much of this season trying not to criticize major league managers each time they make a pitching change. I have told myself time and time again that they are working with far more information than I am (see this excellent article written by Russell Carleton). However, this is a disturbing trend. It is pretty clear that Hurdle only feels comfortable using his two best relievers when the Pirates are winning, even when they are leading by a comfortable margin. In total, 78 of their 100 appearances have come while the Pirates were leading. Far too many of those have come with the Pirates ahead by three or more runs, while both pitchers have become merely afterthoughts when the score is tied or the Pirates trail by a run or two. Those are very important innings that are being pitched by lesser relievers.
The Pirates are not using their bullpen efficiently, and the issue is becoming more glaring the deeper the team gets into a pennant race.