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A manager saving his closer in a tie game on the road backfires again

Jul 7, 2013, 7:55 PM EDT

Clint Hurdle AP

Shocking, I know.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle decided against using closer Jason Grilli, one of the best relievers in baseball, as his team battled the Cubs in an 11-inning affair this afternoon. Trailing 3-2 in the ninth, Pirates outfielder Starling Marte tied the game with a solo home run. Hurdle went to Vin Mazzaro in the bottom of the ninth and Bryan Morris in the bottom of the tenth, both recording scoreless innings.

Hurdle could have called on Grilli, but decided to use Morris for a second inning in the eleventh. Morris entered the afternoon with more than half the strikeout rate (17% to 40.5%) and more than double the walk rate (11.5% to 5%). Anthony Rizzo and Alfonso Soriano both singled to start the inning, putting runners on first and second with no outs. Catcher Russell Martin made a throwing error throwing behind Rizzo at second base, as Luis Valbuena was attempting to sacrifice bunt to advance both runners. Valbuena was intentionally walked to set up a force out at each base. Dioner Navarro mercifully ended the game quickly, hitting a sacrifice fly to center field to give the Cubs the 4-3 win.

Hurdle is just the latest in a long line of managers who have opted to let their best reliever rot in the bullpen in the hope their team takes a lead rather than actively using him to maintain a tie game. Today, though… today is his.

  1. Walk - Jul 7, 2013 at 8:36 PM

    The braves used their closer in a tie game a few nights back, ask them how that worked out for them.

  2. byesac - Jul 7, 2013 at 8:57 PM

    Also, Sergio Romo gave up a tie in the ninth against the D’s. The concept of bullpen management is overrated.

    • baseballisboring - Jul 7, 2013 at 9:30 PM

      That’s not the point. The Giants were at home anyway, there was no chance for a save, most managers will use their closer in that situation I think. It’s just that the dumb save statistic actually dictates how games are managed when it shouldn’t. The concept of the closer has basically taken the best reliever in every bullpen and turned them into situational guys.

      • Kevin Gillman - Jul 7, 2013 at 10:54 PM

        Let’s say though that Hurdle does use Grilli in 10th inning, then Pirates take the lead in 12th, who would you put in then? I’m sorry, but if getting a save was “easy” then anyone could get that last out.

      • paperlions - Jul 8, 2013 at 7:39 AM

        Just about anyone can get the last out. Grilli is 36. Before this year, he had 5 career saves. Now, suddenly he’s a “closer”? Same with Mujica. Any decent reliever can be a closer. Of course, the problem with most relievers is that they are all failed starters and the inconsistency or limited repertoire that sent them to the pen often leads to inconsistent performance there as well.

        The point is that it is poor game management to lose a game without using your best option. If Grilli is the Pirates best option, then he should have been used already.

  3. natsattack - Jul 7, 2013 at 9:33 PM

    I’ve seen the Reds use Chapman in non-save situations, which I found rather surprising, considering how old school Dusty Baker is.

    • drewy44 - Jul 8, 2013 at 9:29 AM

      It’s been awhile since ol’ Dusty fried an arm. Maybe he’s firing the stove back up.

  4. wheels579 - Jul 7, 2013 at 10:19 PM

    It’s pretty obnoxious of you to say Hurdle was letting him “rot” in the bullpen. This entire debate of closer use is nonsense because those who criticize managers always have benefit of hindsight as to which inning is the most important in any given game. The Pirates are having a good year in large part because of their deep bullpen. Unfortunately they didn’t have enough today in a game where they also couldn’t get Grilli a lead. Hurdle deserves a contract extension instead of your pompous derision.

    • stlouis1baseball - Jul 9, 2013 at 11:58 AM

      Absolutely Wheels. The benefit of hindsight makes geniuses of everyone.
      Had Hurdle used Grilli…and it somehow backfired…we would be hearing…
      “Hurdle wastes Grilli in a non-save situation.”

  5. captainloaded - Jul 7, 2013 at 10:51 PM

    Grilli hasn’t been especially sharp his last six appearances, six runs and nine hits. I know they gave him a little rest but he is still missing a couple ticks on the gun. I’m all for giving him the rest he needs if it’s going to help him.
    Also, if you are going to bring up not using Grilli….What about Mark Melancon?? The guy has some of the best numbers in the game when it comes to relief pitchers? In that situation, I’d rather he be on the mound but your article doesn’t even mention him. Melancon’s last 6 appearances, no runs, two hits and 0 walks.

  6. danaking - Jul 7, 2013 at 11:23 PM

    Why not complain about not using Grilli in the 9th? Or the 10th? They could just as easily lost the gamer in either of those inning.

    Hurdle frustrates me on a daily basis with some of his lineup and in-game decisions, but any complaining here is simply second guessing.

  7. riverace19 - Jul 7, 2013 at 11:25 PM

    This is a non-creative dumb article

  8. prosourcetalk - Jul 8, 2013 at 7:16 AM

    Hurdle’s a nice guy but not a good manager.

  9. relggigeht - Jul 8, 2013 at 11:56 AM

    Here comes the second half meltdown. What a disgusting organization.

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