keyboard_arrow_uptop


Contrasts in Contingencies


If there’s one watchword about pitching, it’s Joaquin Andujar’s favorite:
"youneverknow." The vagaries of who gets hurt and why, and who
winds up being ineffective and why, are issues that every major league general
manager has to anticipate. Teams have to be prepared to lose a starting
pitcher,
so today’s question is, who in the early going has had to adapt, and who had
a plan in place?


Ed Lynch gets plenty of flak, much of it deserved, but he deserves a
measure of credit for keeping Terry Mulholland around as the team’s
contingency starter. Despite losing Kevin Tapani and Jon
Lieber
to non-pitching injuries, the Cubs will shortly have a rotation
built
around Steve Trachsel, Tapani, and Lieber. Behind that, the Cubs have a
nice situation; they can pick and choose how to use their pitchers, with
Mulholland being only the most-publicized option.


If Jeremi Gonzalez is ready to go by June, they can call him up. If
Kyle Farnsworth’s
command of his forkball puts the icing on his assortment, he could be up to
stay.
Scott Sanders had a nice start on Sunday courtesy of an unreformed
Eric Gregg, but
there are worse alternatives for the fifth slot. Because of everything that
has gone wrong,
the Cubs have had to avail themselves of all sorts of alternatives; but
other than Brad Woodall,
none of them have really turned out that badly. The interesting dilemma
will be what to do
when Gonzalez is ready, because at that point the Cubs may be able to
peddle a starter for
something they can use.


Like the Cubs, the Pirates have had to fall back on their alternatives much
earlier than they would have liked. Losing two starting pitchers early on
created windows of opportunity for Kris Benson and Chris Peters.
Benson has badly injured his ankle, and they’re already souring on using
Peters in
the rotation. With Jose Silva’s return and the surprising
effectiveness of Todd
Ritchie
in a pair of emergency starts, the Pirates are mulling over their
choices.


Francisco Cordova should be back this week, which would jumble the
picture even further. It looks like they’ll continue to wait and see whether
Ritchie can continue surprising people. So once Cordova returns, that
should mean
Benson will get bumped, even if healthy. In the meantime, they’re considering
calling up Jimmy Anderson. Given a bad team, no real expectation of
contention, the available alternatives and and early evidence that taking a
chance with
kids and journeymen isn’t all bad, the Pirates ought to peddle Pete
Schourek
before
he pitches his way onto the waiver wire.


Better Options


The Astros have an excellent contingency plan. Just in case Sean
Bergman

starts recalling his glory days in Tiger Stadium, or if Chris Holt
can’t
bounce back, Scott Elarton is still the best pitching prospect wearing
a major league uniform. He’s still in place for the Astros to call in case
anything
goes wrong with any starter.


The problem for the Astros is what to do with Elarton if neither Jay
Powell
nor
Doug Henry get their acts together. As long as the team isn’t
getting good work in the
seventh and eigth innings in front of Billy Wagner, Larry Dierker is
going to have to
wrestle with deciding where Elarton does the team the most good. Which hole
does Elarton fill if more than one opens up? If Holt or Bergman struggle
while Powell
and Henry continue to struggle, Dierker will have a tough choice.


The minor-league alternative is Wade Miller, who’s been solid at New
Orleans, and
who could end up in the rotation to stay by 2000. The Astros have talent to
trade for a
starter if something of a season-ending variety happened to Shane
Reynolds
, Mike
Hampton
or Jose Lima, but in that circumstance it’s more likely
that they’d
put Elarton into the rotation and shop for an adequate reliever.


Similarly, the Cardinals haven’t had to call on their main contingency
starter, Manny Aybar. Although I was surprised that they didn’t end up
trading him for Fernando Vina, Walt Jocketty correctly anticipated
that he
could get useful work out of several internal alternatives at second, and
that the difference between what he could get out of Vina versus a combo of
Placido Polanco, Joe McEwing, and Shawon Dunston
wasn’t worth coughing up
Aybar. It’s turned out much better than anyone had any right to expect, but
the
essential point is that when Donovan Osborne or Darren Oliver
get hurt
again, or if Kent Mercker continues to toss extra-lively batting
practice, Aybar
will hopefully have some success as a middle reliever to build on when he’s
dropped
into the rotation. Rick Ankiel’s looking good enough to call up
shortly. Be afraid:
LaRussa and Duncan may not have learned anything from what has happened to
Matt Morris
and Alan Benes.


And the Other Guys


Alone among the teams in the division, the Reds have had to throw up their
hands and rid themselves of a starter for whom there were reasonable
expectations. Brett Tomko is better than he looked last week against
the Phillies,
but maybe the punitive demotion will help him bounce back to where he was in
1997.


Even after calling up Steve Parris, the Reds have a pair of good
alternatives
in the event of another rotation mishap: Scott Williamson and
Dennys Reyes.
Although they’re "grooming" Williamson for the closer’s role, that’s
a waste of a good arm that may be able to give them 30 starts with an ERA
under
4.00. On the other hand, Reyes probably needs a year in the bullpen after
being worked
hard by the Dodgers, but he could still turn out well. If the Reds finally
give up on the
Jason Bere experiment, or if Parris breaks down, or if Denny
Neagle
has to revisit
the DL, both Williamson and Reyes will be available to start.


There’s actually some danger in letting either remain in the pen. In his
stint with the Reds over parts of the last three seasons, Jack McKeon seems to
have combined the worst of both worlds: innings-pitched workloads that seem
normal for the late ’70s and early ’80s, with a contemporary obsession with
LaRussian tactical chicanery. There isn’t a handy tool to calculate the
effect of using
relievers for lots of innings as well as in lots of games, but I’d describe
it as less than
ideal if you want your relievers to have long, healthy careers.


The Brewers haven’t planned for any contingency whatsoever. They’re
surprised when Cal Eldred is aching, they’re surprised that Jim
Abbott

still isn’t useful and they’re surprised that Bill Pulsipher pitches
badly.
They’ll take a spin with Hideo Nomo, hoping something works out. The
internal alternatives are so unappetizing that Rafael Roque was able to
spring out of anonymity in the Mets’ chain to relative adequacy in Milwaukee.
Hell, they’re counting on him, like they’re blind to the possibility that
Scott
Karl
is damaged goods as he continues to lose ground from where he was
as a
rookie. The Brewers are a dandy illustration of small market mentalities,
not actual
small market problems.