Last night, with an 11-0 lead, Ron Washington pulled Kason Gabbard after Gabbard had thrown 92 pitches in 7 innings. I thought that was a rather obvious, non-controversial decision.
However, it sparked a lot of discussion in the game day thread, particularly after the Angels rallied in the 9th, and I wanted to follow up some of my comments there with some thoughts on the situation.
First of all, I think it was the right move, and even if the Angels had rallied to score 12 runs and win 12-11 last night, I would be defending pulling Gabbard after 7 innings.
It was Gabbard's first start of the season. Gabbard is a guy with a history of fragility...his injury history is part of the reason the BoSox were willing to move him last year in the Eric Gagne trade. And Gabbard hasn't exactly been a workhorse in the past...in the majors, he's pitched more than 7 innings only once. And he's gone over 100 pitches only 4 times -- twice 102 pitches, and twice 107 pitches.
So I think, in general, with Gabbard, he's someone you don't want to push. You're trying to keep him fresh for the full season. He isn't going to go farther than the 8th anyway, and if he allows a baserunner you are going to end up pulling him, so I think it probably makes sense to go ahead and give him the final two innings off anyway.
And then there's the issue of the bullpen...there was an off-day on Thursday, and will be an off-day on Monday, so your pen is fully rested now and will be fully rested at the end of this three game series. No reliever, going into yesterday's game, had appeared more than once, and Josh Rupe and Dustin Nippert hadn't appeared in a game at all.
Plus, you have your top two pitchers going on Saturday and Sunday...so you've got a well-rested pen with two guys who haven't pitched, you aren't expecting to need a ton of innings the next couple of days, and you've got an off-day coming up on Monday. It seems like, in regards to the 8 man pen you are currently carrying, you have more of a problem with not getting guys enough work moreso than wearing guys out.
So I think the way Washington planned it out last night is the way I'd probably do it. You give an inning to Kaz Fukumori, a guy who pitched well this spring and who you expect to be a significant contributor, but who was awful in his season debut, so he can get back out there and get back on track in a low-pressure situation. Then you put Rupe or, more likely, the new acquisition (and long reliever) Nippert, out there to get 3 outs with an 11 run lead in the 9th.
Now, Nippert was awful, and had to get yanked, which meant Franklyn German and Eddie Guardado both had to come in...but so what? Everyone who pitched yesterday (except for Nippert) will be available to pitch today, and you still have your two big guns -- C.J. Wilson and Joaquin Benoit -- who have appeared only once this season. I'd wager than, even if it is a blowout tonight, Benoit and Wilson will both pitch, if only to get some work in, since they can still pitch Sunday as well and then have the Monday offday.
So, while I don't always agree with Washington's bullpen management, yesterday I think he did the right thing.