Last night, Joe Maddon displayed his willingness to run through every available option on the fly without erring into the danger zone of allowing momentary passion to override logic. Take his treatment of David Price. After eight innings, the score sat at a deadlocked 0-0. Price had thrown 114 pitches while allowing five baserunners. Maddon could have sent him back out there, but he didn’t. It goes beyond raw pitch counts, with the Rays’ coaching staff taking leverage into account when analyzing when the bullpen should be installed in place of a tiring starter. Nobody thinks it’s a bad idea to send out the young ace for one more inning versus a division rival with first place on the line until something goes wrong.
Maddon used Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, and Grant Balfour in that order from the ninth inning onward. If asked to pluck the three finest relievers in the Rays’ pen, ostensibly that’s the correct selection. The pen did its job, going three innings while allowing only two baserunners. Although, somewhat oddly, failing to record a strikeout.
As for non-pitching moves.
Maddon pinch hit Dioner Navarro for the designated hitter – Willy Aybar – in the eighth against CC Sabathia. Why? So Navarro could lay down a bunt and advance the runner to second with nobody out. Bunting in the situation is defensible given the run scoring environment. Navarro is among the team’s more skilled bat handlers while also being the best backstop defensively. Maddon traded the designated hitter spot to move Navarro behind the plate in the ninth.
Maddon would also pinch hit for Sean Rodriguez (the starter at second base who moved to left field after Carl Crawford’s ejection) with Matt Joyce against Chad Gaudin. In the 10th, he would pinch hit for Jason Bartlett with Brad Hawpe – who would play right field – and Maddon also used Dan Johnson in place of the pitcher’s spot. Ben Zobrist moved from right field to second base and Reid Brignac – whose idol appears to be Crawford in how he’s dressing and setting up his stance – would move from second to shortstop before hitting the game-winning home run.
In the end, the results will be used to judge Maddon, but the processes leading up to the results instill the confidence in Maddon being among the game’s best managers.
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