Prior to Sunday afternoon's game, the Atlanta Braves had won six in a row. So complaining about the manager who oversaw those victories would come as a shock, right? Not when it's Fredi Gonzalez, maligned by many fans for his decisions on the field.
The root of we the fans latest disdain for Fredi Gonzalez is his handling of Julio Teheran in the fifth inning of yesterday's contest. But beyond the decisions he made that inning, it's the way he responded to, or tried to defend those actions.
First let's set the scene: Teheran had been cruising for the first three innings, he was staked to a four-run lead, but then ran into some trouble in the fifth. He gave up a single to center on a hard fought at-bat by Kelly Johnson, then walked Yunel Escobar on four straight. He was getting a little wild, so Roger McDowell paid him a visit on the mound to calm him down.
That seemed to work, as Teheran struck out the next batter. Then during another hard fought at-bat, Teheran surrendered another single up the middle. The fifth batter of the inning then fouled off four pitches in a row before hitting a single to left to bring in the first run for Toronto. Those were tough at-bats, won by Toronto, but Teheran was still battling. There was still life on his fastball and good break to his curveball. Teheran had thrown 31 pitches that inning, but only 74 pitches the entire game, as he had been economical up to that inning.
What I saw at home, and what many fans saw, was a young pitcher battling his way through a tough and scrappy lineup. The hits had all been well-placed singles with nothing hit hard. But that's apparently not what Fredi saw. He pulled Teheran with one out in the fifth in favor of Livan Hernandez, who promptly and predictably came in and gave up four straight hits.
If Fredi was looking for a ground ball, then that might be a reason for Livan. But Gonzalez should have let his young pitcher get out of his own mess. I was screaming at the TV, just incensed by this decision. This is the same vintage 2011-style early hook pitcher coddling by Gonzalez. How is Teheran ever going to know he can get out of these jams if he's not given the opportunity. This was such a bad decision I feel like cussing.
Fredi's decision was made even worse, as his post game quotes reveal, when asked why he went to Livan:
"Who else would you like me to go with? If you give me a suggestion we can talk about it. I could have brought in [Craig] Kimbrel there. Some of the SABR people thought that would be a good spot. In these situations, the fifth inning of a game, is a perfect situation for [Hernandez] with all the experience he can wiggle out of there. He’s not going to spook in that situation. They got him. You have to tip your hat to the Toronto Blue Jays."
You can sense that Gonzalez is a little peeved at the question. When asked what happened to Teheran in the fifth, he gives this barely discernible statement:
"We talk about sometimes with young pitchers different hurdles. That’s one of them, when you get a lead in the fifth inning. You’ve heard me talk about them enough that you know them all. That’s one of them…. First innings…. We thought about leaving him in there a little bit and letting him try to get out of there but at the point I took him out he had a 31-pitch inning. You start getting into some situations where he may get hurt."
He was clearly frustrated that in his mind Teheran didn't come out a little more aggressive in the fifth inning, but other than the walk to Escobar, I have no idea what non-aggression he's implicitly referring to. Kelly Johnson fouled off five straight pitches that inning before getting the first hit. Teheran was pounding the zone, and regrouped after the walk to Escobar and McDowell's visit to the mound.
And are we now to believe that there is a per-inning pitch limit? Teheran was well below any reasonable pitch count for the game.
Even if Livan had come in and gotten a quick double play, or escaped with the lead still intact, I would be criticizing this decision. And it's not even that he went to Livan, though that's another matter entirely (but not entirely his fault). It's that he turned away from his young pitcher, lost confidence in him right when he needed the confidence boost from his manager of staying in the game. Fredi's post-game comments are all over the place. If he knows he made the wrong decision, he's not strong enough to admit it. If he was confident in his decision then he would have given us a valid and lucid explanation, not a string of defensive and combative excuses.
The flippant and petty comment about bringing in Kimbrel comes from someone who either doesn't understand the situation, or doesn't understand advanced statistics (or both). And my complaint is not even with who was brought in, but that a reliever was brought in at that point in the game, and the Braves manager can offer no good reasoned explanation for why.