When you are a team contending for the World Series, the six months you hope to be playing can be equated to a war that is played out on the field. Over the course of time, there will be small battles and occasionally a manager will concede.
In other words you are losing the battle to win the war and that is what happened last night.
Though Joe Girardi might not have envisioned a two-hour rain delay ending A.J. Burnett’s night after three innings and 51 pitches, he might have been thinking about the bigger picture when it comes with bullpen usage when encountering those circumstances.
That is the advantage of 40-man rosters after Sept 1, something that has existed since 1968 and recently become a popular topic to debate.
So what Girardi tried to do is get through a game with his secondary group of relievers. Following Burnett were Royce Ring, Dustin Moseley, Chad Gaudin and Jonathan Albaladejo. Of that group only Ring pitched well as he struck out two in 1 2/3 innings and was charged with a run in his Yankee debut.
So why would Girardi do that?
For one thing, the Yankees are going to the playoffs and secondly, he is thinking big picture with his relievers, especially with the key guys in Boone Logan, David Robertson, Kerry Wood, Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera.
Of course if Burnett has a normal night of pitching six or seven innings, would the bullpen use have gone differently?
It’s certainly possible but Robertson would not be used since the Yankees said an MRI on a muscular back issue that he said does not concern him.
As for those relievers, here’s how September has gone for them:
Logan - 11 appearances, six innings, six hits, three runs, one home run, five walks, 11 strikeouts, 135 pitches to 29 hitters.
Robertson – 9 appearances, 9 2/3 innings, eight hits, three runs, five walks, 10 strikeouts, 187 pitches to 42 hitters.
Wood – 10 appearances, 10 1/3 innings, four hits, five walks, 11 strikeouts, 147 pitches to 39 hitters.
Chamberlain – 9 appearances, 9 1/3 innings, five hits, one run, one home run, one walk, 10 strikeouts, 121 pitches to 34 hitters.
Rivera – 9 appearances, 9 1/3 innings, 10 hits, four runs, one home run, three walks, six strikeouts, 146 pitches to 41 hitters.
One thing that might have countered Girardi’s approach was CC Sabathia pitching the following game. Sabathia has pitched 224 innings in 32 starts and for the most part extensive pitching changes are not part of his games but the next three games after that will feature Andy Pettitte in his second time back from the DL, Ivan Nova, who has trouble around the fifth and Hughes. So with that in mind, Girardi might be thinking there will be extensive bullpen use and the circumstances of rain and Sabathia can keep the key guys even fresher in case they are needed in more than consecutive games.
One trend that Girardi likes to stay away from is using those key pitchers three nights in a row. There have been exceptions but that is Girardi’s preference.
Chamberlain and Hughes the reliever definitely had have not had relief outings on three straight nights. Robertson also has not pitched three days in a row over the last two years and neither has Wood or Logan.
Rivera has pitched six times in three straight games under Girardi.
The most recent instance was July 17-19, 2009 against the Tigers when he pitched the ninth in a 5-3 win and a pair of 2-1 victories. It also occurred June 6-8, 2009 against Tampa Bay when gave up three earned runs in a 5-5 game in the ninth followed by saves in 4-3 and 5-3 victories.
Two years ago, Rivera pitched in the final three games at Yankee Stadium. That probably was more that Girardi felt Rivera should be on the mound for the final out at the ballpark.
On that same homestand, he pitched 2 1/3 innings in three straight games, 6-5 and 8-4 wins over Tampa Bay and a 4-2 win over Chicago. The middle game of that stretch was a one batter appearance when he struck out Willy Aybar with two outs and two on.
It also occurred August 22-24 in Baltimore when Rivera pitched 3 2/3 innings after being idle for five games. Necessity also dictated that as the Yankees were five games behind Boston in the wild card race.
Rivera also did it twice in June of that year. He pitched the ninth of an 8-0 win over San Diego on June 17 after being idle for four days and then saved 8-5 and 2-1 wins.
A week earlier, he was actually used in four straight games. He blew a save in a 12-11 win over Kansas City June 7, saved a 6-3 win, blew a save by allowing a Jose Guillen home run and then saved a 3-1 win at Oakland on June 10.
Of course the full ramifications of conceding this game have yet to be determined. The Yankees only hold a 1 ½ game lead and as good as Sabathia has pitched facing David Price has been a daunting task.
"Sometimes I get some questions and people don’t understand why I’m doing certain things," Girardi said before the game. "But it’s what my heart and gut, and what we talk about, tells me to do."
For managers,whether you agree, disagree or are indifferent, it is about the bigger battle as opposed to the little skirmish - though a September game against the team nearest in the standings should not necessarily be treated like the latter.