Man­agers don’t hes­i­tate to use aces from ’pen

Pitch­ers pre­pared for any role dur­ing post­sea­son

Baltimore Sun - - BASEBALL - By Ben Walker

Chris Sale is all set to start Game 1 at Fen­way Park. If the Bos­ton Red Sox later need him for mid­dle re­lief, he’s ready. Or a setup spot, sure.

“I mean, it’s post­sea­son base­ball. You have to be pre­pared for any­thing,” the All-Star lefty said.

Es­pe­cially when it comes to pitch­ing, par­tic­u­larly af­ter see­ing the likes of Justin Ver­lan­der, Clay­ton Ker­shaw, Max Scherzer and other All-Star aces work­ing in un­usual roles dur­ing re­cent Oc­to­bers.

Be­cause as man­agers’ moves this month have proven — some worked, some didn’t — the win­ning strat­egy might be get­ting the best guy on the mound at the key mo­ment, no mat­ter when that comes.

“That’s what it is. You’re us­ing your team’s tal­ents the best way you can to win games,” Mil­wau­kee man­ager Craig Coun­sell said Thurs­day, a day be­fore the Brew­ers host the Los An­ge­les Dodgers in the NL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries.

Sale and the Red Sox take on the Hous­ton Astros in the ALCS be­gin­ning tonight.

Re­liev­ers have ac­counted for 48.8 per­cent of in­nings in the play­offs so far, top­ping last year’s record of 46.5 per­cent for the whole post­sea­son. By com­par­i­son, five years ago in 2013, re­liev­ers threw 35.7 per­cent of post­sea­son in­nings.

But the re­main­ing teams haven’t been as quick to the bullpen as the trend might sug­gest.

The World Se­ries cham­pion Astros and Los An­ge­les are buck­ing the re­lief revo­lu­tion move­ment, with the Dodgers at 30 per­cent bullpen us­age and Hous­ton at 36. In­ter­est­ingly, those ’pens are also 1-2 in low­est ERA this post­sea­son with marks un­der 1.00.

Even when teams have gone to the bullpen, it hasn’t nec­es­sar­ily been for a tra­di­tional re­liever. TheRedSoxbullpen was seen as a po­ten­tial weak­ness this Oc­to­ber, so rookie man­ager Alex Cora didn’t hes­i­tate to use Sale — who started Game 1 of the ALDS — for the eighth in­ning this week, try­ing to fin­ish off New York at Yan­kee Sta­dium.

“He was in the bullpen, but it was kind of like his day. Ev­ery­body was on board. I even shouted to the dugout, ‘Hey, we’re all in! He’s com­ing in,’ ” Cora said.

Cora also em­ployed for­mer Cy Young Award win­ner Rick Por­cello to start and re­lieve against the Yan­kees.

The Brew­ers are the only team among the fi­nal four to use re­liev­ers for more outs than starters. At a time when more teams are us­ing re­liev­ers to start for an in­ning or two, the Brew­ers went that way in their NL Di­vi­sion Se­ries opener against Colorado. Re­liever Bran­don Woodruff be­gan with three hit­less in­nings.

“Look, it’s no secret that we’re go­ing to use our pitch­ing a lit­tle dif­fer­ently than tra­di­tion­ally, than the tra­di­tion­al­ists would like,” Coun­sell said.

“We know we’ve got a lot of guys, the depth of our staff is what is the most mean­ing­ful thing for me when we kind of fig­ure out how we do this,” he said.

Cora was Hous­ton’s bench coach last year when Astros man­ager AJ Hinch mixed and matched. Ver­lan­der and Sale started against each other in Game 1 of the ALDS, then worked op­po­site each other as re­liev­ers in Game 4.

In Game 7 of the ALCS ver­sus the Yan­kees, Char­lie Mor­ton started for the Astros with five shutout in­nings and Lance McCullers Jr. fin­ished with four shutout frames.

In Game 7 of the World Se­ries at Dodger Sta­dium, McCullers started and was pulled in the third. Mor­ton fin­ished with four strong in­nings, while Ver­lan­der and for­mer Cy Young Award win­ner Dal­las Keuchel were loose in the Hous­ton bullpen.

Mor­ton and Keuchel both threw sim­u­lated games Thurs­day, prompt­ing a ques­tion about whether ei­ther could re­lieve in the first two games at Bos­ton. Ver­lan­der and Ger­rit Cole will start those matchups.

“I know that the days of cre­ativ­ity and how pitch­ers are be­ing used and how I used our ro­ta­tion last year is prob­a­bly why you’re ask­ing the ques­tion,” Hinch said.

“I think given the agony that we’re go­ing through in these bullpen de­ci­sions and the op­tions that we have in thep`en and the per­for­mance of ourp`en and the depth of p`en, I see it less likely than ever ini­tially in this se­ries for me hav­ing to get that creative with our starters,” he said.

Coun­sell played for the Ari­zona Di­a­mond­backs when they won the 2001World Se­ries. Im­pos­ing aces Randy John­son and Curt Schilling started five times in the seven-game win over the Yan­kees, with John­son also work­ing once in re­lief.

“I’m not try­ing to — we’re not try­ing to elim­i­nate the need for great start­ing pitch­ing,” Coun­sell said.

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