Managing a major-league team does not seem like too arduous of a task. In terms of decision making, there is only so much a manager can do. One of those few things a manager must decide on is who is going to come out of the bullpen and when.
Last year, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona took a different approach to managing his bullpen after the club acquired relief ace Andrew Miller. Miller was easily Francona’s best option out of the pen. Instead of being a traditional ninth inning reliever, he was deployed earlier on, before other teams could start a rally. Miller became a modern-day Rollie Fingers, minus the absurd number of innings pitched.
Francona was praised for this innovative approach to bullpen management. However, a drawback that was pointed out to this method of “bullpenning” is the fact that it is being done in the postseason. When a team is playing anywhere from one to 20 games in October, it is easy to burn through bullpen arms given the fact that they are about to have months off to recover. It could never work in the regular season, right? Arms would obviously get burned out too fast.
Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price looks to go against the tide with how he has managed his bullpen thus far.
Today @Reds Bryan Price used 9th inning guy Iglesias in 5th for 2 innings, & set-up guy Lorenzen to close in 9th.
— Brian Kenny (@MrBrianKenny) April 15, 2017
Price realizes that he has multiple legitimate late inning options out of his bullpen. Raisel Iglesias usually will get the nod as the “closer,” as he currently leads the team in saves with three. However, two other pitchers, Drew Storen and Michael Lorenzen, have recorded a save. Three different players recording a save for a first place team 13 games into the season is a lot more than would be considered “normal.”
For context to the Brian Kenny tweet, Reds starter Brandon Finnegan was pulled after just one inning of work with a left lat strain. This left the last eight innings of the game up to the bullpen. With the heart of the Milwaukee Brewers order set to come to the plate in the fifth inning, Price went to Iglesias to guarantee a shut-down inning.
The game is always on the line. The best relievers are usually saved for the late innings, but in this instance, the late innings were not the most important. In the end, Lorenzen shut the door in the ninth, recording a walk and a strikeout against Milwaukee’s ninth through third hitters.
This is not the only instance of untraditional bullpen use from Price. On April 10, the Reds defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, 7-1. The win did not come as easily as the final score would suggest. After walking in a run, Reds starter Finnegan was pulled with no outs in the third, leaving the bases loaded. In came Lorenzen, who escaped the jam, maintaining the lead.
A traditional setup man coming in to diffuse a sticky situation in the third inning is not a move a lot of managers would be willing to make. Price, however, realized that the game would not be more on-the-line than in that moment. Lorenzen went on to pitch three perfect innings en-route to the Reds coming away with the win.
This method of bullpen management has yet to be widely accepted in the game, but the results cannot be argued. The Reds currently are in first place in the NL Central division, and their bullpen ranks sixth in baseball with a 2.65 ERA.
If there were awards for the first two weeks of the season, Price would certainly be at the top of many Manager of the Year ballots.