Collapse in Cincinnati

Through five innings the Derek Lowe kept the ball on the infield and the Reds scored once. In second the Braves loaded the bases and after Alex Gonzalez failed as usual with RISP, Derek Lowe drove in two runs.  Then Martin Prado walked and with the bases loaded and one out Jason Heyward popped up and Brian McCann flied out. In the fourth inning with two on and no one out, Prado, Heyward and McCann again failed to drive anyone home. Then came the sixth inning.The Reds suddenly caught up with Lowe who had been cruising even though the  field temperature was over 100 at game time and hadn’t abated. Fredi Gonzalez went to George Sherrill to get one out and Scott Proctor who amazingly got two more without allowing any runs and the Reds were up by two.The next inning the Reds caught up with Proctor.

Proctor, who’s fastball is now very flat and easy to hit, hasn’t fooled anyone in his last three outings. After two runs scored the Skipper went to get Proctor.  Cristhian Martinez fresh from Gwinnett came in and allowed five more runs to score though two were charged to Proctor. By the time the dust had settled the Reds had blown the game open.

Fans on Twitter, Facebook, and I’m guessing in living rooms across the country had been cheering Lowe on until the sixth and suddenly they wanted to know why he had started the inning. In fact there was not much cause to yell at Lowe. His five innings were superb and he was the only Brave with an RBI. That he ran out of gas in the heat should and probably was anticipated. That it happened so quickly might not have been.  The trouble was made worse when we had to go to the pen before the eighth inning and all that was available was George Sherrill, Scott Proctor and Cristhian Martinez.

I’m sure fans screamed at Fredi Gonzalez loud and often for the choices he made today but of course this wasn’t all Gonzalez’ fault. The structure of the bullpen and the offense’s inability to drive in runs against a pitcher who is on the ropes is the reason Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters, and Craig Kimbrel lead the majors in appearances.  When your bullpen contains only three consistently dependable pitchers, three pitchers past their best and a long man who is at his  best when starting an inning or entering with no one on base, your hands are tied. So, Gonzalez can’t win. If he uses the big three exclusively he’s accused of over working them and risks injury to their arms. If he doesn’t he’s accused of surrendering the game through bad bullpen choices.

During the off season the we traded for Linebrink who had not performed well in Chicago, signed Sherrill who had failed miserably in L.A. and resigned Proctor even though 2010 was bad.  We were told that Linebrink, Sherrill and  were going to provide the experience to guide the youngsters through the season. Proctor’s spring was so bad he was cut, then surprisingly offered a minor league contract he eagerly accepted. Of the three, Sherrill has surprised many by getting better over time and performing very well in the last two months. Linebrink’s performances have been inconsistent and Proctor’s downright awful. In his last ten appearances Proctor has thrown 8 2/3 innings allowed 13 hits and 14 runs for an ERA of  14.55 and a WHIP of 2.540. Those numbers shoudl qualify him to join the unemployment line for he is now no good to us at all.

I believe management thought that Stephen Marek was a viable fallback option this spring but he had to have Tommy John surgery. So when Peter Moylan went down Proctor was called up instead.

Jairo Asencio was tried and hammered.  Cory Gearrin was tried and when used correctly, wasn’t that bad.  He was rejected however and sent down. Now we have a dilemma. There are only a few days to deadline and fewer good arms available. Any that are out there will demand a higher price because everyone needs bullpen help.  We cannot continue to expect the big three to do all the work nor can we depend on Proctor or Linebrink. Sherrill is at his best when used against lefties only and for an inning or less.  What’s the answer?

We could call Arodys Vizcaino, Julio Teheran or Randall Delgado but I  don’t believe that will happen.  Those young arms – and young is a key word there – are so valuable and the Braves fear slowing their progress as starters or injuring them through over use. Vizcaino is already an often injured young man.  You might see Anthony Varvaro come up or perhaps Jaye Chapman, J.J. Hoover or one of the others we haven’t heard a lot about. In the end however that will not be enough. Even with Moylan returning in a few weeks he may not be back to his old self quickly and we certainly don’t want him re-injuring himself  by using him too much.

As I wrote a few days ago, our post season run needs – along with a versatile right handed bat – an experienced right handed arm like Grant Balfour of the A’s or maybe Tyler Clippard who the Nationals made available this week to replace Proctor who is clearly done.

These are the days when the GM’s earn their money. The decisions they make on which pieces to add for the stretch run will play a big part in making the championship a reality. Who would you like to see?

Tags: Derek Lowe George Sherrill Peter Moylan Scott Proctor

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