So Brandon Belt is hurt. His wrist. This season started with three hitters in the lineup that I couldn’t wait to watch. Those three hitters have turned into Miguel Tejada, Eli Whiteside, and Aubrey Huff from 2009. Things have really gone well so far. And of course Belt got hurt in this game -- an ugly, turgid thing that left you alternating between "hey, score more than three runs and this isn’t a problem" and "oh, no, bullpen."
Remember when every move Bruce Bochy made was golden in the playoffs? He was a prescient, master tactician who couldn’t do wrong. Javier Lopez was like a blank tile in Scrabble, always waiting to bail him out when he got stuck. It was a perfect marriage.
So Bochy’s in a slump, just like a player can be, right? His swing is off, so to speak. He keeps rolling decisions over to second. Either that, or Bochy is the Terrell Lowery of managers, except he did his good in the playoffs. I’m hoping for the former, grateful and fearful of the latter. Because even the things I trusted Bochy to do well -- handle a bullpen well -- are falling apart, and that’s like Darren Ford losing his speed.
It all comes down to his fascination with Javier Lopez, that bewitching LOOGY who was a LRTOGY last season for about 19 innings. Bochy sets up his innings so that Javier Lopez faces left-handed hitters. He does this at the expense of Sergio Romo, who has been one of the best relievers in baseball this season. Romo threw one bad pitch tonight, and to be fair, it was in a terrible spot. Romo’s lucky that Albert Pujols didn’t tie the game right there.
But Bochy didn’t remove Romo because he threw a bad pitch -- he removed him because the inning is set up for Javier Lopez to face left-handed hitters, even if that means he has to face right-handed hitters. Lopez, over his career, can’t pitch against right-handed hitters. Every left-hander against Lopez turns into something like Aubrey Huff this year -- .227/.319/.321 -- but every right-hander against Lopez turns into Buster Posey (.298/.379/.431.)
I don’t begrudge a manager for wanting to put Lopez in against lefties. It makes sense. You want your inning filled with Aubrey Huffs. But you don’t want to sprinkle Buster Poseys in there if you can avoid it.
Every right-hander against Sergio Romo turns into Aaron Rowand -- worse than Rowand, actually, as right-handers hit .189/.243/.322 against him. And every left-hander against Romo turns into ... something worse than Aaron Rowand. Lefties have hit .187/.259/.273 against Romo over his career.
So you can set your inning up so your opponent’s lineup looks like this: Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey, Aubrey Huff. Or, you have the option to set up their lineup like this: Guy worse than Aaron Rowand, guy worse than Aaron Rowand, guy worse than Aaron Rowand.
You do everything you can to make sure Romo is the guy pitching to more hitters. You do everything you can to make sure that Lopez is only, only, only pitching to left-handers unless you absolutely can’t help it.
It’s not a hard concept. A little more time in the manager’s cage, taking extra decisions, and Bochy should be able to manage a bullpen again. He’s just in a bullpen slump. He needs a day off to hit the ol’ mental reset button. Maybe this was the game that will spring him from his slump.
Or maybe he’ll just make us look back at October and November of last year and think, "How in the absolute heck ..." for the next 30 years.