CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – What an amazing problem to have.
The uncertainty of Andrew Miller’s role in Cleveland’s bullpen is one of the easiest things manager Terry Francona has ever had to sift through. Do you pitch the Indians’ newcomer in the ninth inning? Do you use the talented southpaw in the eighth?
Do you save him for when the game is hanging in the balance?
Yes, yes, and yes.
Truthfully, it will probably be a little bit of everything for the Tribe’s big deadline acquisition from the New York Yankees.
“The whole idea is to, when you have the game on the line, leverage situations, you want to use guys in the right spots,” manager Terry Francona said. “I think anybody that’s known me since I’ve been here knows that, a lot of times, I feel like the games are won and lost [in the] seventh and eighth with people on base.”
He isn’t wrong.
Baseball, at least in recent history, has put a lot into saves, closers and the final three outs. But the idea that the 27th out is always the toughest to get just isn’t all that accurate. And to somehow suggest that a closer coming in to begin an inning with the bases clean is somehow more important than the reliever entering in the seventh with two on and no one out is ridiculous.
Games are often won or lost well before a club ever gets to the ninth.
With that thought in mind, Francona now has the option to put his best relievers, Miller, Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw, in the most advantageous spot for his club to emerge with a victory.
“There are going to be times when maybe the upcoming inning has three lefties, which would seem to make sense to have Andrew pitch that inning,” Francona said. “But we’re going to leverage those guys the best we can.”
Of course, that option becomes possible because of the relievers involved.
Not every club has pitchers willing to put the team’s need over their own personal accolades. Miller demonstrated that in New York earlier this season, agreeing to pitch out of the Yankees set-up role after the club acquired Aroldis Chapman from the Cincinnati Reds.
Cody Allen, the man who has occupied the Tribe’s closer spot for over two years, approached the front office long before the Miller deal was made, passing along his willingness to switch roles if it meant making the Indians better.
That sort of selflessness is not always abundant.
“I’ll be a bullpen pitcher, beyond that I don’t know,” Miller said. “Wherever Tito asks me to pitch, I’ll pitch. I think I’ve been pretty consistent with the Yankees and hopefully that has shown. I’ll just be the same way here. However I can help the team. If we win games, that’s what’s important.”
And Francona certainly appreciates that attitude. The rest will develop organically.
“They’re all on board,” the manager said. “They want to pitch. They know they’re going to pitch with the lead or when the game’s tied at home. And it’ll be fun. When you get a guy like Andrew Miller, he’s kind of a rare breed where he’s had the success he’s had, and he just wants the ball. And then Cody’s willingness to do whatever really makes it fun. “