UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave while perusing some team bullpen statistics that are truly frightening.
It was 1997 and the Cincinnati Reds bullpen was struggling, particularly during a series in Cleveland.
After the bullpen blew up a couple of leads to the Cleveland Indians I wrote, “The Reds bullpen is not a bullpen, it is a pigpen.”
The next afternoon, relief pitcher David Weathers, a truly nice guy, but a proud guy, stormed into the clubhouse waving the press clippings and yelled at me by saying, “So we’re a pigpen, huh, we’re a pigpen?”
BEFORE WEATHERS COULD say another word, Kent Mercker intervened. Weathers and Mercker were tight friends and Mercker, also a bullpen occupant and one of the most intelligent and humorous pitchers I ever encountered, said loudly, “We are a pigpen right now. All I ask is that I’m called the head hog.”
That diffused the situation but Weathers was cold toward me the rest of his time in Cincinnati but, to his credit, continued to be a stand-up guy with the rest of the media.
It was Mercker who once said, “You know it is time to retire when you run in from the bullpen and your breasts jiggle.” Asked what he was going to do during retirment, he said, “I am going to turn vodka into urine.”
NOW WE FAST forward to this year and another pigpen for a bullpen. That’s not to denigrate any individual, it is just that the bullpen creates messes, sort of makes the pitching mound a pigpen.
Consider these ugly numbers. Through 21 games, the bullpen has had four opportunities for saves. It has converted one.
THE BULLPEN HAS pitched 78 innings, second most in the majors, and has given up 78 hits. It has given up 60 runs, nine more than the next worst, the Colorado Rockies. It has given up 18 home runs, most in the majors. It has given up 46 walks, most in the majors.
A pigpen? You betcha.
THERE ARE THOSE who lay the blame at the feet of manager Bryan Price or pitching coach Mark Riggins. And that’s absurd.
Price and Riggins can only run out the horses they have. Unfortunately, they don’t have horses. They have a bunch of Shetland ponies.
Is it fixable? Not without a nearly total overhaul and how does a team overhaul its bullpen in late April? Caleb Cotham, acquired in the Aroldis Chapman trade with the New York Yankees and Ross Ohlendorf, a veteran late-spring signee, have been usable guys. So has Dan Straily, another late-spring signee, but he is now in the rotation on a temporary basis. And Blake Wood hasn’t been bad.
But J.J. Hoover, Jumbo Diaz (now in Louisville) and Tony Cingrani, the late-game guys have been disasters waiting to happen on almost a daily basis.
SO, IN EFFECT, right now the Reds have no closer and they have no set-up guy, the two most important pieces of a reliable bullpen.
So what is a manager to do?
He does exactly what Price did Tuesday night in New York.
Starter Brandon Finnegan was on the mound. The Mets had put their leadoff batter on base in five of the first six innings, but Finnegan didn’t give up a run and the Reds led, 3-0.
THE METS PUT two runners on in the seventh with one out. Price went to the mound with Cingrani and Cotham ready in the bullpen.
Mets manager Terry Collins sent up Yoenis Cespedes to pinch-hit. Cespedes had missed three games with a leg injury, but turned on Finnegan’s first pitch, a 94 miles an hour fast ball, and bashed it for a three-run home run. Now it was 3-3.
Now Price went to the bullpen and brought in Cingrani. Curtis Granderson tripled on Cingrani’s first pitch and David Wright singled him home and it was 4-3. And that’s how it ended.
What’s a manager to do?