On Friday afternoon, Aroldis Chapman had a rare bad outing trying to finish up the Cincinnati Reds' 6-2 lead over the Chicago Cubs. So bad, in fact, that manager Dusty Baker actually removed his Proven Closer (tm) for J.J. Hoover with the game on the line. Chapman already had allowed three runs when he walked Cody Ransom to load the bases with two outs. Baker -- give him credit here -- took out Chapman and Hoover struck out Darwin Barney to close out the 6-5 victory.
The question: Did Baker learn anything?
Did he learn that there are multiple ways to use a bullpen, ways that can make the Reds' pen a more effective weapon? In fact, on Sunday, with Chapman and Jonathan Broxton both having pitched two days in a row, Hoover earned another save in a 7-4 victory.
That's the way a bullpen should be used: Save Chapman for the close games and tie games; using Chapman with a three-run lead is essentially a waste. Hoover, even if he's the third or fourth guy in the pen, is capable of closing out a three-run lead. Of course, I doubt Baker will change because of two games. He blamed Chapman's poor outing Friday on inactivity.
"He hadn't pitched in three days," Baker said. "If you don't pitch him it's like if you're pitching him too much."
OK. I think I get what Dusty is saying: Being rusty can lead to the same ineffectiveness as being overused. Chapman hadn't pitched in three days, which doesn't really seem like an unusual layoff, but I guess it's a good excuse. But it's that concern that often leads managers to pitch closers in meaningless situations just to get them work. That could be avoided by using your closer for more than three outs, but that is against the Unwritten Rules of Modern Closer Usage. Even though when Chapman was a setup guy, Baker routinely used him for more than three outs.
Hoover actually summed up bullpen usage pretty succinctly Friday: "You kind of train yourself for that as a reliever. All of these [relievers] can handle that situation. That's what makes us a good staff."
So, if Dusty is concerned about Chapman not pitching enough, then pitch him more! Tie game in the eighth? Use him for two innings. Extra innings? Let him go two. Chapman has pitched 15 innings in 16 appearances. Even though he's one of the great strikeout relievers in the game's history, the type of pitcher who can get you out of tough jams, only once has Chapman entered with a runner on base this season, and that was when the Reds were already trailing.
I know I pick on Baker a lot, and he's really only one of 30 managers who uses his pen this way. But he's a high-profile manager on a team with World Series aspirations with a unique weapon at his disposal in Chapman. The lefty flamethrower is on pace to pitch 78 innings, many of which will be wasted with three-run leads, and few of which will come to escape tough jams.
Baker can use him in smarter ways. And leave the cheap saves to Hoover.