Let me preface this post by stating the obvious: Phil Coke is not very good against right-handed hitters. Jim Leyland is convinced that Coke can get both righties and lefties out, but that hasn't simply been the case since the start of the 2012 season.
That said, I agree with Leyland's decision to bring Coke into yesterday's game with a pair of runners on base in the seventh inning. At the time, the left-handed Ryan Flaherty was coming to the plate with runners on first and third. Orioles manager Buck Showalter countered by pinch-hitting with the right-handed Danny Valencia, a career .256/.297/.394 hitter. If Coke should be counted upon to get any right-handed batters out, they are the likes of Valencia and backup catcher Chris Snyder, who was on-deck.
So how did Coke do? We all know the end results of his outing by now: RBI single, fielder's choice, RBI single, pop out, line out, and a loss for starter Rick Porcello. However, let's look deeper at Coke's outing, because it wasn't exactly the dumpster fire that the previous sentence indicates.
Situation: bottom of the seventh inning, runners on first and third base, no outs. Coke was brought into the game in a sticky situation after Porcello lost control of his outing. As mentioned previously, Danny Valencia was ordered to pinch hit for the left-handed Ryan Flaherty. Coke starts off the at-bat by getting two quick strikes -- a fastball away and a curveball inside, in case you're curious -- but then hangs a breaking ball. Valencia hits a blooper into right field, scoring Eric Dickerson to tie the game at 2-2.
Situation: bottom of the seventh inning, runners on first and second base, no outs. Chris Snyder, another right-handed hitter, steps into the box and is ordered to bunt the runners over. While the theory makes sense -- Snyder is not a good hitter by any means and the O's needed one run to take the lead -- the execution was as bad as Alex Avila's failed bunt attempt in the top half of the inning, which was turned into a 2-5-3 double play.
The decision to keep the bunt on with two strikes was particularly puzzling, and had Miguel Cabrera been able to glove the ball cleanly we would have been talking about identical double play bunt attempts from both catchers in the seventh inning.
Situation: bottom of the seventh inning, runners on first and second base, one out. Leadoff hitter Nate McLouth works a full count, then muscles an inside fastball up the middle for an RBI single to give the O's a 3-2 lead.
I'm more upset about FSD's awful camera angle than I am about the play itself. Coke threw a good pitch, but got beat. It happens.
Situation: bottom of the seventh inning, runners on first and second base, one out. With the O's now leading, Leyland leaves Coke in to face the right-handed Manny Machado. I considered this to be Leyland's most puzzling decision of the inning, but it worked out when Coke forced Machado to pop out to shallow left field on a curveball out of the strike zone.
Machado has shown reverse platoon splits in his limited time in the big leagues, so this may have played a part in Leyland's decision making... though I doubt it. Either way, I like how Coke handled the budding star, forcing him to go after a pitch out of the strike zone.
Situation: bottom of the seventh inning, runners on first and second base, two outs. Coke falls behind Nick Markakis 2-0 before leaving a fastball out over the plate. Markakis hits it hard, but directly at Andy Dirks in left field.
That's baseball for you. The hardest hit ball off Coke in the inning goes for an out, while the Orioles took the lead on a bloop single (on a bad pitch) and a seeing-eye grounder (on a good pitch). While Coke's trends against righties are very troubling, I don't mind the decision to use him in this situation. In this isolated incident, he handled himself fairly well. Had he not badly hung an 0-2 pitch on the first batter he faced, we may have seen a very different result in this game.