By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)
I’ve watched a lot of baseball, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like what happened in the 7th inning of yesterday’s 5-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves.
The wheels started to fall off a quality start for Matt Garza when, with the Brewers up 4-2, he allowed a pair of singles to start the bottom of the inning. Garza departed with one out, and Brandon Kintzler was summoned to face righty Gerald Laird, who hit a ground ball to third that deflected off Mark Reynolds’ glove and trickled into left to score Chris Johnson.
That’s when things took a decidedly damning turn for Ron Roenicke. With Ryan Doumit batting, Roenicke summoned a lefty … only none had been getting loose. When Roenicke walked out to the mound, the bullpen was visibly panicked. Zach Duke wound up emerging from the gates, but Roenicke had already made the substitution for Will Smith. So Duke returned to the bullpen and the cold-armed Smith took the mound. Braves manager Freddi Gonzalez insisted on adherence to the eight-pitch rule, and that’s all the warming Smith was able to do.
Home plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth was so concerned about the potential for injury that he tried to bend the rules and get Smith more warm-up pitches. He even initiated a psudo-replay review to see if there was any way to help Smith, but nothing could be done. And that falls squarely on Ron Roenicke.
The results were predictable, and as Rock said on the broadcast, Smith showed all the signs of coming in cold. Smith allowed back-to-back singles and walked the third batter before being lifted. Roenicke compounded his bullpen mismanagement by bringing the infield in with only one out and the go-ahead run on second, and the Braves took a 5-4 lead on the first single.
Roenicke’s post-game explanation made virtually no sense. The Brewers were down pitching coach Rick Kranitz and bullpen coach Lee Tunnell, both of whom were attending family graduations. But there were fill-ins in minor-league pitching coordinator Rick Tomlin and bullpen coach Marcus Hanel, respectively. Roenicke said Kranitz usually takes care of calling the bullpen, and he simply assumed-wrongly-that Tomlin would, too. But then, for some reason, he also sent Martin Maldonado to the bullpen:
“You do things the same way every day and when it changes, it just changes what goes on. I had to make the change. I sent Maldy (backup catcher Martin Maldonado) to run down to the bullpen because we needed two guys up. Maldy went down there and said, ‘I think it’s (Zach) Duke,’ but he never got the call on who it was. So, we didn’t call.”
While the situation provides an interesting glimpse into the daily work of the pitching coach and the importance of his relationship with the manager, the failure to get it right in this case is utterly inexplicable. There are monitors showing a feed of the bullpen in the Atlanta dugouts. There’s a phone in the dugout with a direct line to the bullpen. And it’s apparently pretty easy to send someone to personally check on the bullpen during a game.
How, then, it was possible for Roenicke to mess this up is beyond me. But rarely do you see a loss traceable so directly and tangibly to mismanagement. After the game, Roenicke said the loss was “going to be hard on me.” It should be.