Relief arms across MLB have been busy this week with FOUR vultures! As the summer warms up, the carrion eaters are scrounging to feast on the carcasses rotting in the heat! Without further ado let’s take a look at this week’s scavengers.
May 10th. Andrew Miller of the New York Yankees. Once upon a time, Andrew Miller was a starter with the Detroit Tigers. That experiment lasted exactly one season all the way back in 2007. Nevertheless, he kept trying to make it into a rotation. Detroit traded him to the Marlins whom he toiled for during three years but it also didn’t work out (to the tune of an 8+ ERA in his final year in Miami, ouch!). He was traded to Boston and they tried to make Miller a starter too. He had a 5.54 ERA that year, his BEST year. The Red Sox wisely decided it was time to see if Andy could pitch from the bullpen.
From then on Miller’s performance got noticeably better now that he didn’t have to face the same lineup two-three times a game every five days. For the remainder of his tenure in Boston he posted decent relief numbers (and even got a World Series ring though he wasn’t in the postseason due to a season ending injury).
This promise as a relief pitcher was not enough for Boston to keep him long term since he was traded to a Baltimore team that needed relief pitching mid-season with an eye towards the playoffs. In exchange for Miller, Boston received intriguing left handed pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez (who has since become a respectable MLB caliber starter for Boston, I’d say they made good on that trade).
Hitting Free Agency, Miller signed with the Bronx Bombers on a four year deal and eventually cemented his role as the Empire’s Closer with excellent numbers across the board. Cashman did good for his team to stabilize the back of the pen after Robertson’s departure.
Which brings us to last night’s game.
Miller has thrived so well as a stopper that his vulture came upon the very first home run he’s allowed all season, indeed his first earned run he has allowed all season. With a one run lead in the top of the 8th. Lorenzo Cain did this to an 84 MPH slider:
Andy would allow another hit but he also struck out the side. I’ve talked about mistake pitches before and that definitely looked like one to me. That pitch practically fell into the middle of the plate. You can’t do that to a guy like Lorenzo Cain and expect to come ahead more often than not.
Thankfully for Miller, the bombers would score three runs in the bottom of the 8th. Chapman would come in to the 9th in his return from suspension and nail down the save. Andy, you’re a fine relief arm but we all know you don’t deserve that W. You should throw it back on the field, like Cubbies fans do at Wrigley to home runs hit by the visiting team (is that still a thing?).
May 14th, Hunter Strickland of the San Francisco Giants. This guy has a name that would be more appropriate for the lead character of an 80’s B-movie action thriller. I’m not quite sure B-movies still exist in their original form. It seems movies are very expensive nowadays no matter the intended audience/budget. Maybe if I ask nicely, Old Gator will write something when he’s done lobbing water balloons at Curt Schilling.
Anyway, Hunter Strickland certainly performed like a B-list player that night. He came in the bottom of the 8th ostensibly to protect a one run lead but immediately gave up a single to Paul Goldschmidt because let’s face it that’s what Goldschmidt does. Rickie Weeks Jr. (he’s only 33 but it feels like he’s been in MLB FOREVER) then struck out (on a foul tip). One Chris Herman single later and the tying run is on third. Gosselin smacked Hunter’s next offering to right field where it was caught by Hunter. Pence that is, not Strickland. Though it would have been awesome on a Bugs Bunny level to see that happening! It was a fly out but far enough to let Goldschmidt score and just like that it’s a blown save. Good thing he wasn’t auditioning for the Human Target. The damage was limited to one run thanks to a Chris Owings strike out.
It’s only the fact that Daniel Hudson totally pooped on the mound in the 9th that saved Hunter from ignominy. Hudson allowed hits, walks and hit batsmen which came home to roost on a Buster Posey double to bring in a pair of runs. Strickland, give back that W, you don’t deserve it!
May 15th, Dellin Betances of the New York Yankees. Dellin Betances is normally VERY reliable. He’s a strikeout machine. But in the 7th Inning of the Empire’s game Betances was not on his. The Chi-Sox managed two singles and a double and the game was tied before Dellin even recorded an out. If this were say… the Tiger’s bullpen, I’m sure a total meltdown on the level of Chernobyl would have ensued. But Betances is better than that. He got a ground out that prevented another run from scoring and then went back to his strikeout machine ways getting two more to end the threat. The damage was done however.
The Yankees managed to scratch out two more runs in the next two innings to give Betances his first vulture of the year. The rest of the bullpen kept putting zeroes on the board to seal the victory.
May 15th, Heath Hembree of the Boston Red Sox. Heath’s claim to fame was being part of trade to Boston that sent Jake Peavy to San Francisco. His night started when he came in to relieve Robbie Ross in the 6th Inning with a 2 run lead (seriously these names sound like they are characters from Pushing Daisies).
With one on and no outs he faced Jose Altuve. In our usual Narrative Altuve gets the big hit here. Instead he got a ground out which forced Jason Castro at second base. Altuve was safe at first though. Still, so far so good. Then he gets George Springer to strikeout. Alright, things are looking up for Heath here. Though, in the interim Altuve stole 2nd base and then third. Still you have two outs so you’re in good shape to escape with no damage. Just. One. More. Out.
Alas, Josh Rutledge threw badly to first base on a Carlos Correa grounder and Altuve scored. But it was a 2 run lead. The inherited runner scored but you still have a one run margin to work with.
Just. One. More. Out. Colby Ramus (a.k.a Road Kill Hill Billy) doubled down the line to tie the game. The lead is gone. Well, at least you must preserve the tie right?
Just. One. More. Out. Tyler White singled to bring in Rasmus and now your team is losing. Oh man, some days it’s like you can’t BUY an out. Luis Valbuena took pity and hit a short tapper to Hembree which he fielded for the easy out at first.
To be fair to Heath here, if Josh doesn’t get slapped with a fielding error the inning would have been over with a respectable performance. But this is the kind of situation where the pitcher must rise against adversity, buckle down and get out the next guy. It’s not like this was Cole Hamels and the ALDS with three straight fielding errors. Heath allowed two more hits after the error that tanked his hold. It’s why he’s middle relief and not back of the bullpen material (yet). That 2.35 ERA with a 10 H/9 tells me his inherited runners are scoring more often than not.
His performance in the 7th was much better as he retired the side with only a walk and facing the dangerous Altuve again for a second time he managed a line out.
Fortunately for him the Red Sox have more offense than the entire NFL and they weren’t done scoring. Ryan Hanigan and Mookie Betts got the key hits that tied the game and then gave the Sox back the lead in the bottom of the 7th.
7th Inning Heath Hembree probably deserves the W, but 6th Inning Heath Hembree doesn’t. If Heath can figure out how to pitch more like the 7th inning and not the 6th Inning on a consistent basis he’ll develop into a nice relief arm.
But you never know with these guys. They are quite volatile. In in the case of the Tiger’s bullpen very flammable.