Yesterday was Blue Jay manager Charlie Montoyo’s first game managing at the Major League level. It was bittersweet for him, as the Blue Jays lost 2-0 at the hands of a late-game double and home run by the Detroit Tigers. While I am reticent to pile on a manager in his first game, there was one bullpen decision that made me think of John Gibbons and the understated, underrated way he managed bullpens.
In the bottom of the 7th inning, with Blue Jay starter Marcus Stroman nearing 100 pitches, Montoyo called to the bullpen to get two right-handed relievers up and warm: Joe Biagini and Javy Guerra. Both got hot, and Biagini came in the 8th inning to strike out the side while Guerra sat for the rest of the game. Blue Jays closer Ken Giles came in to pitch a scoreless ninth. Montoyo then called on Daniel Hudson, a pitcher the Blue Jays plucked directly off the scrap heap days before. Hudson made a few mistakes, allowing two runs before Tigers closer shut down the Blue Jays in the bottom of the 10th for the win.
While I can’t say for sure, I have a feeling that Gibbons wouldn’t have warmed up Guerra at the same time as Biagini only to burn him. I understand why Montoyo might have done it – Guerra could be used as an insurance policy for Biagini. After all, Biagini’s track record is not exactly good. But if that’s the case, why use Biagini in a high leverage situation at all? If Montoyo isn’t confident using Biagini in that role, he should have went straight to Guerra in the first place. Had Guerra been saved, he could have been used instead of a pitcher plucked off the scrap heap days before.
(*Editor’s note: some readers have misinterpreted the above paragraph as an argument for using Guerra over Hudson. The point is not about using Guerra over Hudson, but burning a bullpen piece. Anyway, Guerra had a full, effective camp with the Blue Jays while Hudson threw poorly enough in the Angels camp for their management to see fit to release him. He signed four days ago and had a disjointed [read: tumultuous for him and his family] spring camp. Is it a surprise he wasn’t sharp in his first outing?)
Hindsight is, of course, 20/20. And we’ll never know if Guerra wouldn’t have been lit up himself had he pitched the 10th inning. But from watching Gibbons manage for nearly 10 years, I grew accustomed to seeing impeccable bullpen management.
Gibbons also has another strength: he is a savvy handler of relief pitching, with former reliever B.J. Ryan once claiming that in his first year under Gibbons he only got up once in the bullpen without getting into a game. – Jeff Blair, Return of the most underrated manager in Blue Jays history, November 20, 2012.
Of course, there are certainly going to be factors regarding managerial decisions that fans aren’t privy to. Montoyo may have had many good reasons for handling the bullpen the way he did in game one. The health of his relievers, matchup data, or even pressure from ownership to utilize Biagini (?) factor into the way Montoyo manages his bullpen. Guerra is six of one and Hudson is a half dozen of the other. Basically, what I’m trying to say is this: while I like Charlie Montoyo and I’m happy he’s managing this team – I miss John Gibbons and am reminded how gifted he was at managing a bullpen.
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