DETROIT -- It falls on the players to make the plays on the field, produce the offense, and record the outs on the mound. But it's the responsibility of the manager to ensure that the rotation and bullpen are managed correctly. That is not happening with Brad Ausmus at the helm of the Detroit Tigers and the latest example was a grisly 11-9 loss at the hands of the Seattle Mariners.
With two outs in the eighth, Neftali Feliz, a struggling reliever who the Tigers picked up for a pittance -- the latest existential shot in the dark -- was reverting to his floundering self. He had passed 30 pitches and had already allowed a run via a wild pitch. With two on-base, Seth Smith was walked intentionally, loading the bases. It should have never gotten to this point. Instead, Ausmus stuck with Feliz, who served up what can arguably be called the season-worst home run: A grand slam.
So, with that being said, why did Ausmus not go to the bullpen for either Joakim Soria or Alex Wilson, who have both been solid this season?
"We were running short on pitchers as it was," Ausmus said. "We can get into the second guessing based on results, but the truth is I would do nothing different at all in that game. You try and put the players in the position to succeed, you try and get through the game. We were running short on pitchers from early on in the game. But quite frankly that's exactly how I would do it again."
Soria, the Tigers' closer, is useless if the team doesn't hand him a save to preserve. He was available. Wilson was available. Neither were warming up during that entire eighth. And the crux of it is, Soria has recorded four-out saves before -- it should also be noted that his last four-out save was on June 5 against the White Sox. Ausmus has used him in these exact situations before. And succeeded. There were options.
Ideally, Soria should have been brought in to face pinch hitter Franklin Gutierrez in the eighth and started the ninth, with Alex Wilson waiting in the wings if Soria tired. And it would have kept Wilson available for extras. Consequently, Wilson now owns a mere 2.01 ERA after Tuesday night, and a microscopic 0.4 home runs per nine innings entering the game.
Ausmus, however, stated that Feliz was still throwing "good" in the eighth, even after passing 30 pitches. And his reasoning for opting for Feliz is based on an extremely small sample size, something that Ausmus has repeatedly stated in the past is not an accurate way to assess someone's performance -- that instead, you have to look at a player's track record over 162 games. If you go by that reasoning, Feliz should not be in games anywhere near tight and late situations. Yet, it happened.
"Well he's pitched well since he's gotten here," Ausmus remarked. "He's been a closer, he's used to high pressure situations, so yeah. We're trying to find someone to get us to Soria, and we're having a little trouble finding that."
Undoubtedly the team has had a difficult time getting a lead to Soria in the ninth. The starting pitching has not performed to par, relievers are unstable, and the offense is fluky. However, going to Soria in the eighth with two outs and either the bases loaded or two on-base -- you either walk Smith or you don't depending on the history between Soria and Smith -- gives the team the best chance to start the ninth with a lead.
If Ausmus goes with Soria -- or even Wilson -- there's a better chance that the out is recorded, the team heads to the bottom of the eighth with a one-run lead that they add to on the run on the double and two wild pitches. And you carry a two-run lead into the ninth. With Soria starting the ninth and a lead, you have the ability to either stick with him or go to Wilson if Soria starts to tire. And you preserve Wilson for the potential of extra innings if need be, as Ausmus advocated he was needed for.
But that's not what happened. And unfortunately, it's not a one-time issue with how Ausmus manages his bullpen, among other aspects of the game. This isn't entirely on Ausmus as president and GM Dave Dombrowski is responsible for constructing the poor bullpen in the first place. But Ausmus has options. He's just choosing not to use them properly. And it's not only costing the team wins, but also quite possibly a shot at the postseason.