Questioned about his deployment of the Rockies’ B team last Sunday, manager Jim Tracy refused to give an inch. But he changed tactics today, and it paid off.
A week ago, with a rare chance to sweep a three-game series against Arizona, Tracy wrote out a Sunday lineup that featured only three regular starters — shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, right fielder Michael Cuddyer and third baseman Chris Nelson. Inasmuch as Nelson had become the regular earlier that day when Jordan Pacheco was optioned to Colorado Springs, the lineup had even more of a spring training “B” game feel than even the numbers suggested. The Rocks managed only two runs and the Diamondbacks salvaged the final game of the three game set, 5-2.
The wholesale substitution policy was especially annoying to fans after last season’s horrendous record on Sundays, when the Rocks lost seventeen Sunday games in a row on the way to a record of 6-19 on the day many families choose to take the kids out to the ballgame.
After last Sunday’s game, which dropped the Rocks’ 2012 Sunday record to 0-2, Tracy was asked what he would say to fans who paid full price for admission only to see him empty his bench onto his lineup card.
“One of the things that they’re going to have to understand is we have some guys on this club that if you run ’em out there every single day, April, May and June, when you get to July, August and September, when you start analyzing the ages of some of our players and realize that we’re playing at altitude and that rest and recovery in the cases of several of those are going to be very, very important to the success of this club,” he said.
“This club is built that on certain days, we’re going to have to do some different things. That’s all there is to it, or those guys, there’s not going to be much left of them for the second half of the season.”
He had a point. With Todd Helton, 38; Marco Scutaro, 36; and Ramon Hernandez, 35, all members of the starting lineup — to say nothing of the effects of altitude on recovery times that Tracy mentioned — the Rocks’ older regulars will need more days off than those of many other teams. And last Sunday, the problem was compounded by Carlos Gonzalez’s case of strep throat, which forced him from the lineup.
Still, I followed up his answer in the post-game press conference by asking why he couldn’t rest his regulars one or two at a time, throughout the week, rather than all at once, in effect trotting out a B team.
“You have a good young catcher,” he replied, referring to rookie Wilin Rosario. “You have a first baseman that we’ve talked an awful lot about the last couple of days. You know that situation there. You’ve got another guy sick that’s not even here at the ballpark. There are some days where you’d like to have it a heck of a lot different than it is, but if that’s the situation on a given day, you have to deal with it, that’s all.”
Tracy is one of the few managers in baseball willing to take on pretty much any question, but he dodged that one. Rosario being a promising young player does not explain why Hernandez must sit when most of the other regulars are also out. This seemed especially questionable in the Arizona game, which was rookie pitcher Drew Pomeranz’s first big league start of the season. Common sense seemed to suggest he be given a veteran battery mate. As it was, Pomeranz struggled and Rosario was in little position to help.
And even if Tracy’s other points were correct — Helton will get day games after night games off, which is the case many Sundays, and CarGo was unavailable — that didn’t explain why he chose to give the same day off to Scutaro, Hernandez and Dexter Fowler. To be fair, Tyler Colvin has been better than Fowler so far this season, so let’s call that one a voluntary tactical decision. But resting the three veterans — Helton, Scutaro and Hernandez — all on the same day was unnecessary.
If Tracy’s replies suggested he would not change his mind, his lineup today showed more flexibility. With a chance to win their third series in a row in a rubber match at Milwaukee, Tracy gave days off to three, not five regulars, and only one of the three veterans he rested a week earlier. In fact, he started Rosario for Hernandez on Saturday night so he could start Hernandez on Sunday with Helton out. And he paid the price — Rosario was charged with two passed balls, and it could have been three, Saturday night.
The other two regulars who got today off — Fowler and Nelson — were replaced by players off to better offensive starts — Colvin and Jonathan Herrera. So they were arguably deployed on merit, as Colvin was the week before, not to rest Fowler or Nelson, two of the lineup’s youngest players. So Helton was arguably the only starter given the day off so he could rest.
The three subs — Colvin, Herrera and Jason Giambi — collected three hits, scored two runs and drove in one in Colorado’s 4-1 victory.
Of course, if baseball named three stars of the game the way hockey does, the top two for the Rocks would have been pitchers. Jeremy Guthrie enjoyed his best start of the young season, surrendering one run and three hits in seven innings. After Rex Brothers began the eighth by allowing the first two batters to reach base on a walk and a hit, Matt Belisle came on to retire the heart of the Milwaukee order — Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart. Belisle has yet to give up a run in seven appearances this season and his WHIP — walks and hits per inning pitched — is a microscopic 0.15.
Still, it looks as if Tracy decided to deploy a more competitive lineup than a week ago. Oddly, a mental mistake by Scutaro led to the Brew Crew’s only run. As Tony Soprano used to say, whaddya gonna do?
We’ll get a chance to see if Tracy’s change of tactics is permanent when the Rocks play host to the Mets at Coors Field next Sunday afternoon. But after today’s result, a more moderate pattern of substitution does seem advisable. Often accused by critics of stubbornness, Tracy should get credit for changing tactics that had been publicly questioned.
The Rocks have now won four of five and enter a series, in Pittsburgh, over .500 at 8-7, the first time that’s happened this season.