Fredi Gonzalez's bullpen usage has had a major overhaul, but one reliever is resisting the change.
Fredi Gonzalez swore he would change, and he has. Dusty Baker never learned to love Mark Bellhorn, and Joe Torre never became a young player’s manager, but Gonzalez took the bullpen pedal off the floor. The Braves' manager started the 2011 season racing his bullpen around every turn, and by September the team was left with bald tires and in need of a pit-stop just sort of the finish line, blowing an eight-game lead to lose the wild card to the St. Louis Cardinals. It was the biggest collapse in National League history. When the season ended, Gonzalez promised that next year would be different, and he changed… but perhaps he isn’t the only Brave who needs to adjust his strategy.
Gonzalez’s mantra in early 2011 was win early and win often, seemingly viewing nearly every game as an opportunity to use one of his big relievers Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, and closer Craig Kimbrel—a three-headed, three-armed force of despair and dashed hopes for a comeback. If the Vikings sacked villages and carried off its riches, the VOK-ings sacked opposing hitters and carried off their manhoods. Gonzalez went to them even if the situation didn’t follow the conventional wisdom as to when a manager should deploy his best relievers. This resulted in an unrealistically heavy workload for the trio, with the number of one-run games the Braves had in the first half (24) only serving to exacerbate an-already unrealistic pace for the pitchers.
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A brutal eight-game losing streak has taken the Atlanta Braves from first to worst in the NL East.
The Weekend Takeaway
It’s not all that hard to go from first to last in nine days this early in the season. To do so as resoundingly as the Braves have, though, takes a special kind of awfulness.
At the end of play on May 20, Fredi Gonzalez’s team was 26-16 and enjoyed a 1 ½-game lead in the National League East. At the close of shop last night, the Braves had slipped to 26-24 and sat in a last-place tie with the Phillies, four games behind the first-place Nationals.
Are teams asking the right questions about pitcher injury prevention, or are they just guessing along with the rest of us?
Thanks to Jerome Holtzman, inventor of the save, and Bruce Sutter, the first fireman used like a 21st-century closer, Chicago is quite literally the birthplace of the modern reliever. So it seems almost tiresome that in the Windy City, baseball news over the last week has been dominated by the vagaries of relief pitching.
Before last Friday's game against the Dodgers, Carlos Marmol sat hunched over in the folding chair in front of his locker, all by himself. No one was talking to the normally happy-go-lucky reliever, or even sitting nearby. We soon learned that Marmol was processing some bad news.
Nobody (including Pythagoras) gives the surprise division leaders much of a chance, but Florida's young roster is improving.
Doom and gloom was predicted for the Marlins following the big winter meetings trade in which they dealt away their two marquee players, left-hander Dontrelle Willis and third baseman Miguel Cabrera, to the Tigers for six players. While the Marlins got two top prospects back (left-hander Andrew Miller and center fielder Cameron Maybin), the team's chances of having much success in 2008 appeared slim. In fact, it was not a stretch to think the Marlins might lose 100 games just two years after being the surprise team of the National League and contending for the wild-card playoff spot into September under Joe Girardi, who won NL Manager of the Year in his first year as a skipper at any level.
Current Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez took over after Girardi was fired following the 2006 season because of his disputes with owner Jeffrey Loria, and was not so quick to write his team off coming into this season after his first year at the helm. It wasn't just because he is supposed to stay positive as the leader. "Even though we lost a heckuva player in Cabrera, I still felt we had the type of offense that was going to score our fair share of runs," Gonzalez said. "I didn't think offense would be the problem but I did have questions about our pitching. I didn't know if we could get major league hitters out on a consistent basis."