After he allowed three runs in the fifth inning of Monday's 12-5 win over the Seattle Mariners, Detroit Tigers fans were mystified when Alfredo Simon took the mound in the sixth inning. The Tigers had just taken an 8-5 lead, and Simon was already at 100 pitches for the evening.
However, it was Simon that toed the rubber when Mariners shortstop Brad Miller (a left-handed bat) stepped into the box in the bottom of the frame. Following Miller were right-handed bats Mike Zunino and Austin Jackson, then a pair of dangerous left handers in Kyle Seager and Robinson Cano. With five runs allowed in the previous two innings, relying on Simon was a risky proposition, at best.
Chris McCosky of The Detroit News spoke with manager Brad Ausmus after the game about the decision.
"They had a lefty leading off (Brad Miller), then two right-handed hitters (Mike Zunino and Austin Jackson), then two lefties (Kyle Seager and Robinson Cano), and then righty Nelson Cruz," Ausmus said. "You can't burn three or four pitchers trying to get through one inning.
"I felt like if Simon could get Miller, we can let him face Zunino and Jackson."
At first glance, this makes sense. After last week's bullpen implosions, limiting the innings they pitch helps avoid future meltdowns. However, with Simon bleeding belt-high fastballs left and right, why didn't Ausmus go to his bullpen?
Better yet, if Ausmus trusted Simon to get the left-handed Miller out, why couldn't he trust one of his bullpen arms to do the same?
Simon has held right-handed hitters in check this season, allowing a .215 batting average and .272 on-base percentage. Lefties have had their way with him, however, batting .303/.362/.513. The left-handed Blaine Hardy, who relieved Simon after three batters, is holding lefties to a .164 batting average and .246 on-base percentage. Righties are hitting better, at .260/.322/.429, but those numbers pale in comparison to the .875 OPS lefties have off Simon.
Additionally, Al Alburquerque, a likely right-handed choice had Ausmus dipped into his bullpen, is holding lefthanders to a .240 batting average. His walk rate and home run rate against lefties are both elevated, but with similar platoon splits, the fresh Alburquerque may have been a better choice to face the strikeout-prone Miller (21.3 percent in 2015) than Simon.
Luckily, the move worked out. Simon retired Miller and Zunino before allowing Jackson to reach base, and the Tigers' offense ended all doubt with four more runs in the top of the seventh. But the gamble was especially lucky, considering it saved Ausmus from overtaxing his own bullpen with needless pitching changes in a three-run game.