Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Pros And Cons Of Starting Johan Santana On Short Rest

  • Johan Santana called upon to save the Mets:
After the Mets bats failed to capitalize on another game rife with opportunities against a
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rookie pitcher (albeit a good one in Chris Volstad), they're now in a predicament in which they have to look at the needs of the team in the short term as opposed to the long term. Johan Santana volunteered to take the mound on three days rest this afternoon to try and save the season. Here are the objective realities of such a maneuver:

He can't be counted on to go deeply into the game unless he keeps his pitch count very low--Santana's record in the few games he's pitched on short rest in the regular season is not good, but that's actually misleading. In three starts, his record is 1-1 with a 6.14 ERA and five homers allowed in 14 2/3 innings. That being said, the numbers were bloated due to a terrible start in 2002 in which he got shelled allowing three homers to a White Sox team that could really hit. That was also Santana's first year in the starting rotation at age 23 before he became Johan Santana. In the other games he pitched on short rest, he pitched quite well.
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And one of the starts was in April of 2000 when he was a rookie and the three days rest came after a relief appearance of one inning.
The final time he did it in the regular season was also after a relief appearance four days earlier in 2003. Santana also pitched on three days rest in the 2004 ALDS vs the Yankees and pitched well in both appearances in that series. The pitch counts were important then as well because he only threw 93 pitches in game one and lasted five innings and 87 pitches in game four. His history has little to do with how he's going to fare today, but clearly he's going to have to be watched closely after throwing 125 pitches on Tuesday.

Santana isn't a short-term investment--Santana is 29-years-old and is signed to a very lucrative, long-term contract to be the Mets ace as they enter their new ballpark; he's one of the cornerstones of the organization and an asset as they try to lure free agents. Overtaxing him for short-term needs and risking injury a few years down the line isn't worth it. That's the
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difference between the Brewers repeatedly throwing C.C. Sabathia on three-days rest and putting Ben Sheets out there this afternoon----what difference would it make to the Brewers if both Sheets and Sabathia get hurt after signing huge money contracts elsewhere? It's not their money and they're comfortable in the knowledge that the two pitchers aren't going to beg out of such important games and still be able to look their present and future teammates in the eye; plus I don't think Sheets is going to be able to last very long today given the ominous statements coming out of Milwaukee of how he's going to "give it a shot". That brings me to the next point...

The Brewers are still in a shaky position--
They haven't the faintest idea of what they're going to get from Sheets if he indeed gets out to the mound to pitch; nor do they know how long he's going to be out there; the backup pitcher they're mentioning, Dave Bush, has been
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adequate but not great lately and in two of his three starts this season against the Cubs, they've done a number on him. The Brewers have gotten yeoman work from their rotten bullpen over the past week, but how long are they going to be able to count on that? Plus Cubs manager Lou Piniella looked very agitated with the mental and physical mistakes his team made last night and won't want to enter the playoffs with his team flopping around on the field like, well, like the Mets.

The Mets have no choice--With the way they've played behind every pitcher not named Santana over the past few weeks and the reality of a loss eliminating them from contention, they have to roll the dice, put Santana out there and
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hope that they jump on Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco (a pitcher they've consistently pounded), get a lead big enough to entrust to that bullpen (that would have to be a pretty big lead) and get Santana out of there after 80 or so pitches. They're going to have to make a choice if the score is 1-1 in the sixth inning and Santana's scheduled to bat after having thrown 90 pitches; other than that, they can only hope to get a lead, put some pressure on the Brewers who are scheduled to start at 3:55 and win their own game. The only other thing they can do is a rain dance around Shea Stadium so Santana will be able to pitch on his regular rest tomorrow and hope that the Brewers lose today. Actually, that's probably the best of all possible scenarios aside from a Mets win and Brewers loss.

  • Indians 11-White Sox 8; Roals 8-Twins 1:
With all the ridicule the Mets receive for their back-to-back collapses, the White Sox are authoring a collapse of their own. They started the Twins series up by 2 1/2 games with seven
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to play and only one win away from effectively sealing the deal and they lost all three games; then they returned home to play the retooling Indians and a rookie starter in Scott Lewis and got pounded for eleven runs. And all of this was going on while the Twins were losing 8-1 to the Royals.
Javier Vazquez is scheduled to start for the White Sox today, but after his showing in the high-pressure game against the Twins (and in other high-pressure games throughout his career) and with how manager Ozzie Guillen has been so open in his low opinion of Vazquez's courage, I wouldn't expect much other than a quick hook.
Even with all of that, there's a window of opportunity for the White Sox just as there is for
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the Mets; Glen Perkins is starting for the Twins and he's been knocked around in his past four starts; pitching for the Royals is Gil Meche, who's been very good in his last two starts and generally always gives a gutty effort.
I have a feeling that this division is going to come down to Monday afternoon as the Tigers play that makeup game against the White Sox and if that's the case, then the White Sox are in trouble because veteran teams who've had a rotten year like the Tigers would like nothing better than to have another team (especially one with a manager who's despised throughout the league) to join them in their misery. In a way, it would be far worse
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for the White Sox to have their season come down to Monday afternoon because the Tigers have known that they were going home after the regular season ends; the White Sox expected to be in the playoffs and it would be a kick in the gut if they got knocked out the day after the season ended by a team that had nothing to play for other than the satisfaction of knowing they've knocked out one of their division rivals whom they don't like all that much to begin with.

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