Especially for those who were already concerned when Liam Hendriks entered the game to pitch for a third day in a row, there was cause for much gnashing of teeth when fans’ worst fears were realized: Hendriks was touched for 2 runs and the A’s bid to host the wild card game was stalled.
I was among those who leaned towards staying away from Hendriks last night, though I think it’s pretty evident that a duo chosen from Wendelken, Petit, and Soria had plenty of potential to disappoint. And the fact is, I’m not sure that what transpired exactly suggests that Bob Melvin made a poor choice.
First off, it’s not as if Hendriks came out throwing 91 MPH, or lacking swing and miss stuff. In fact, the Dylan Moore at bat saw Hendriks paint a two-strike fastball at the knees, and when he didn’t get the call he beautifully elevated a fastball above the hands for a swinging strike 3. Certainly, Hendriks couldn’t command his slider but it’s a bit of a stretch to assume that it directly relates to pitching 3 days in a row — he may just have not commanded his slider last night.
You also have to note that Hendriks came within a single strike of closing out the Mariners. He then got burned (by something called a Shed Long) on a fastball that probably wasn’t as elevated as he would have liked, but in fairness to Hendriks he should have escaped with just the one run. J.P. Crawford lifted a foul fly ball that Chad Pinder felt he had to slide for, when in fact he probably could have run it down without “leaving his feet” and caught the ball instead of a chunk of turf.
Crawford then flared a ball just fair to win the game — if only he had ripped a line drive we might still be playing. I guess he has a flare for the dramatic. All in all it certainly wasn’t Hendriks’ best effort, with a couple location mistakes and a slider he couldn’t command, but he didn’t especially look like a pitcher too tired to go and he very nearly got the job done.
Also worth noting is precedent. Remember the A’s surge to the finish line in 2012? At the end of the season, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook appeared in each of the A’s final 4 games. Grant Balfour did them one better, appearing in each of the last 5. The point being that at this time of the year, with a post-season berth/slot hanging in the balance, 3 in a row is far from excessive. It just didn’t work out.
I suppose the most compelling argument against asking Hendriks to go for a third straight day is his lack of success doing it in the past. That, however, is a sample size all of 1: Hendriks blew a save and took the loss in Minnesota on his third straight day (July 21st), but the only other time he has pitched on a third straight day (June 6th) he faced one batter and recorded a strikeout to earn the save. That’s hardly an indictment of Hendriks’ ability to pitch 3 days in a row.
What it comes down to is that Hendriks wasn’t at his best or worst, came within an eyelash of succeeding and was betrayed by both defense and luck in his quest to at least get the game to the 10th inning. That’s not so much poor bullpen management as it is baseball: sometimes the baseball gods know what result they want and will not have it any other way.
Unfortunately for the A’s, the end result is that not only is tonight’s game a “must win” but it’s a game Oakland has to try to win without Hendriks — unless they want to ask him to pitch for a 4th day in a row and I don’t see that happening. Hopefully the A’s bats, strangely cold lately with RISP, can heat up at the right time and send the A’s back to Oakland on Wednesday.