One of the key decisions in today's game -- a decision that resulted in a firestorm erupting on Twitter -- came in the top of the 6th inning, when Ron Washington, with two on and two outs, elected to bring Neal Cotts in from the bullpen to face Josh Hamilton.
On the one hand, this was, seemingly, a bizarre decision. Yu Darvish, the team's ace, was on the mound, and had been cruising. After allowing a Mike Trout home run in the first inning, Darvish set down 11 in a row at one point, and had allowed just four hits and two walks (against eight Ks) heading into the Hamilton at bat. Now, two of those hits had come in the 6th inning, though one was a not hard hit opposite field single, and when Yu issued a two-out walk to Trout to bring Hamilton to the plate, it appeared he was pitching around Trout. With a tired bullpen, and your ace on the mound pitching well and at just 84 pitches, it seemed like Wash would want to ride Yu for at least another inning, if not two.
On the other hand, this was, seemingly, an obvious decision. This was a must-win game. Yes, Yu had been pitching well, but he had also allowed three of the four hitters he had faced in the sixth inning to reach. Josh Hamilton, as Rangers fans know, is much more vulnerable to lefthanded pitchers than to righthanders, and with the Rangers leading, 2-1, this was the highest-leverage at bat of the game, to date. In a must-win game, there's something to be said to limiting the number of times your starter goes through the order, then turning the game over to your studs in the pen to go for an inning apiece.
My initial reaction was frustration, and some anger...it seemed reminiscent of last year's Wild Card game, when Yu, pitching well, was lifted for Derek Holland, who promptly allowed an inherited runner to score. And indeed, in this case, Cotts got up 1-2 on Hamilton, and then threw Hamilton a strike, up and out over the plate. Hamilton stroke it into left field, and the tying run came across the plate. Cotts then retired Howie Kendrick to get out of the inning, but the damage was done.
That being said...I really struggle with saying that pulling Yu was the wrong move. To the extent I would say it was the wrong move, it would be because you've got a worn out bullpen and another game tomorrow. Joe Nathan and Tanner Scheppers have each pitched in four straight games, and Wash will likely need to turn to them tomorrow, as well. Yu is one of the best pitchers in baseball. This isn't Matt Garza or Martin Perez you're using your quick hook on...this is Yu Darvish. And its Yu Darvish pitching well, and pitching efficiently...his pitch count was such that it seemed like he could have gone eight innings.
Part of me views this as Wash not having a lot of faith in Yu Darvish...that his late season struggles have shaken the trust Wash has in Yu, and resulted in a much shorter leash. I have a hard time seeing Justin Verlander or Felix Hernandez or C.C. Sabathia being pulled in that sort of situation. And Wash is big on roles...if Yu's role is "ace of the staff," isn't this when he'd be asked to work out of a jam and go deep into the game?
But on the other hand, I wonder if there isn't more going on here that we aren't aware of. Yu has alluded to having a physical issue that is hampering him, although he's brushed it off, saying no one is 100% at this time of year. But his previous two starts, he certainly didn't look like he was 100%. And there was that weird moment early in the game, when Ron Washington, Mike Maddux, the Rangers' trainer, and Yu's interpreter all ran out to the mound to check on him. Yu waved them off, but it certainly appeared that there were concerns in the Ranger dugout that something was amiss.
And so, if Yu Darvish isn't 100%, if he's physically not in a position to be able to go 120 pitches, or is going to struggle to maintain his stuff late into games, then I get bringing Cotts into the game in that situation. It all depends on how healthy Yu Darvish really is, how capable he was of continuing to give the Rangers good innings at that point in the game. And if he was already near his breaking point, or the limit of what Wash and Maddux felt he could handle, then it made sense to pull him then and go to Cotts.
Its a difficult situation, and I see both arguments. I don't know what the right call was in that situation. But at the end of the day, the Rangers won, which means which call was the right one academic.