Matheny Signals ‘I Want This Game’ with Martinez Entrance in Jam in 6th

Major League Baseball managers can be set in their ways and many factors go into how they decide to use their bullpens–matchups, inning of a game and the situation, who’s hot, even paychecks. Often when a game is tight in the middle innings managers are loathe to use their best pitchers that early in a game because they want to hold back those pitchers for situations later, so they reflexively call on what are called “middle relievers” to bridge to the better pitchers when the game might be in the balance. Middle relievers are today’s version of “mop up men”, sometimes finishing what turn out to be lopsided losses. They are usually the lesser pitchers on a staff.
But often the game might be in the balance earlier in the contest. Some managers have begun to recognize these “high leverage” situations and are turning to the best pitchers they have available that day to put out a fire. That’s what Mike Matheny saw last night in Pittsburgh when he called on Carlos Martinez to get the Cardinals out of a two-on, one-out jam in the sixth inning of a game the Cardinals were leading 4-1 at the time.
Starter Joe Kelly had labored through the first five innings of the game. In the sixth, with one man on base and one out, he hit pinch-hitter Jose Tabata. There were two outs to get right now and nine more to get later.  It’s early in the season but the Cardinals were hammered the night before and the Pirates will be a nemesis again this season.  A home run could tie the game and the top of the order was coming up for the Pirates, first with leadoff man Starling Marte. Matheny responded by pulling Kelly from the game and inserting Carlos Martinez. Martinez quickly got Marte to ground into a force-out and got the next hitter to ground out. Inning–and threat–over. Most managers with a three-run lead in the sixth would have used a middle reliever to get through the inning. The Cardinals manager saw it differently.
Catcher Yadier Molina told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “That’s the situation where you’ve got to bring in one of your best pitchers.”
Goold asked Mike Matheny what he was thinking: “It just seemed like a spot we had to get out of. We got into a jam. I like Carlos coming in at that point to get us out. I don’t know how it’s going to play out from here…we’re trying to find the best way for him to make the biggest impact.”
This is progressive game management. It’s what could be called “out of the box” thinking in the context of the way games have been managed in the past, or often still are today. The Phillies, for example, have been cited for not getting their expensive closer Jonathan Papelbon into games earlier, allowing others to fail in situations that demanded an aggressive–but viewed as often too risky–response.
Martinez went on to walk a man in the seventh but then retired the side in order after that. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak was asked on KMOX Radio today what he thought of Matheny’s decision to go with Martinez at the time, rather than another pitcher. “I thought it was brilliant myself…I wouldn’t think of it as lack of confidence in (others). You look at it as who is a true stopper. We have a manager who understands high leverage situations.”
Mike Matheny has shown growth in his role as manager in each of his first three years. Saturday in Pittsburgh he signaled that he won’t sit around waiting to use his best options just because a game is in the fifth or sixth inning. It’s a very good sign for a club with a pitcher like Carlos Martinez. He could carve out a unique niche for himself in the 2014 season. I discuss that in the video below.
Play ball!

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