Pulling Bergesen: Right Move, Wrong Result

July 02, 2009 | Thyrl Nelson

There are plenty of things that I’m willing to criticize Dave Trembley over, in regard to his tenure here as the Orioles’ manager, but yesterday’s decision not to trot Brad Bergesen back out to finish the game in the 9th inning against Boston  isn’t one of them.


Trembley has certainly frustrated, even infuriated myself and a number of other devout Orioles’ fans throughout this season in particular , with his liberal rest policy, his unwillingness to play lefty/righty match ups late in games, and his general crassness. The mental errors that seem to plague this club, both in the field and on the bases, could be laid at the feet of Trembley as well.


Surely in this season, where every player on the roster is being evaluated through the filter of whether or not they project to be a contributor to competitive club in the future, Trembley himself is likely no different. And with each passing game, with every missed opportunity, it would seem that Trembley is inching ever closer to that proverbial door. And for the record, I too have been guilty of looking forward toward the day that this club moves on without the exasperating skipper.


With all of that said though, there’s absolutely no way that I would have trotted Bergesen out for the 9th inning yesterday either. I may have bypassed Johnson and gone right to Sherrill, without regard for whether or not it was a save situation, Sherrill would have likely created the save situation for himself anyway, but there’s absolutely no way that I would have brought Bergesen back out for the 9th.


There’s no question, that despite not being in the opening day rotation, and despite not being one of the many young players that O’s fans have been anxiously waiting on, Bergesen has easily been the O’s best pitcher this season. And although the talk of him being an ace is probably way overblown, Bergesen has quickly proven his value, and also provided us with a glimpse of what a player like him could do for the rotation of a contender.


He’s proving that he could become that Livan Hernandez type of innings eater. A guy that you can pencil in as a built in off day for the bulk of the bullpen, and a guy that, if necessary, could even be left out to throw 7 or more innings on a night where he might not have his best stuff. I’d say that there’s scarcely a contender in this league that is well off enough to say that Bergesen wouldn’t be an asset in their rotations immediately.


Still though, we are playing toward the future, and there’s a lot about this club and it’s young players that we’re still learning. My guess regarding Bergesen is that he’s more like Koji than Erik Bedard, when it comes to mental makeup, but again that’s just a guess, or maybe a wish. I’m simply saying that with players like Bedard, there’s never any guess work in trying to determine when to take him out of games, he’ll absolutely tell you when it’s time. Looking at Koji’s situation on the other hand, also a guess, but I’d say that it’s a safe one too, that Koji probably felt elbow discomfort prior to his last start, but the pressure of being a competitor, as well as his desire to stay in the rotation, probably led him to take the hill too soon, and now he’s out for 2 months.


In my heart, until I have reason to believe otherwise, I’d like to believe that Bergesen would have declared himself okay to pitch the 9th inning yesterday, whether he actually was able to or not. Therefore, the responsibility is on Trembley to make that determination for him.


At 103 pitches going into the 9th inning yesterday, I have little doubt that Bergesen could have at least started the 9th, and maybe even finished it. But there are bigger issues at hand here too.


I know that many despise pitch counts, and I’ll concede that to say that universally 100 pitches is the magic number throughout baseball is ridiculous. On the other hand, to look at each individual, and not look at how the number of pitches thrown effects their own numbers is equally ridiculous. For example, Pedro Martinez (wispy by power pitcher standards) had a reputation for struggling almost every time he pitched after going 9 innings. In other words, Pedro could get through 9, no problem, but the effect would carry over into his next start.


Looking at Bergesen’s game log, it seems that each time they increased his pitch load, he seems to have carried a bit of that over into his next start. Lately though, he’s been settled in around 105 pitches per start, and he’s been rolling. For all intents and purposes, Trembley rode Bergesen to the edge of his comfort zone yesterday.


Next, consider that it wasn’t just the other team’s 2,3,4 and 5 hitters coming up, it was one of the most renowned hearts’ of the order in baseball. The likelihood of Bergesen getting through the 9th on 20 pitches or less, while seeing each of those guys for the 4th time on the day didn’t seem very high.


Since Pedroia, scheduled to lead off the 9th for Boston, was already 2-for-3 against Bergesen on the day, you can’t really send Bergesen back out to the mound using Pedroia as the barometer for whether or not he pitches to Youklis. If you send Bergesen to start the 9th, you almost have to concede that you’re allowing him to pitch 2 batters. You almost have to concede that the reigning AL MVP, and seemingly the only guy on the club seeing Bergesen well would get on base somehow. If so, then Bergesen is just as likely to give up the long shot to Youklis, who had been hitting the ball hard all series, and probably would have turned the game over to Sherrill under the same circumstances that he got it anyway.


And lastly as it relates to Bergesen’s performance yesterday, and the possible indication that it was time to pull him, consider that as well as Bergesen has pitched, he has seemed to fall apart in a hurry, on the few occasions that he’s fallen apart at all. Five of the last 6 outs that Bergesen recorded on Wednesday were on flies or pop ups, the only exception being a strikeout of Jason Bay, who couldn’t lay a bat on the ball all series. For a ground ball pitcher, the indications were there.


As it relates to the long term, Bergesen is at 91 innings and change on the season for the O’s, with another 11 innings thrown at Norfolk. His career high was last season, at 165 innings and change, he pitched 150 and change the season before that. Right now, at roughly 100 innings on the season, he’s almost 2/3 of the way to his career high, and he’s compelling Trembley to leave him out there for 7 innings per start. When it’s all said and done, Bergesen’s innings total should go so far beyond what he’s ever done before, that it could be scary. Saving an inning here and there may seem like overkill, but saving an inning after 103 pitches have already been thrown, seems prudent here, it’s only one game.


Johnson and Sherrill should have been able to get through the 9th, but sometimes good hitters just prevail. The O’s themselves have recent wins over K-Rod and Papelbon to provide evidence of that. It happens to Roy Halladay, it happens to Johann Santana, and yesterday it happened to Brad Bergesen.


From Trembley’s perspective, it’s damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. If he had gone to Bergesen and lost, the blogs and talk shows would be flooded with folks talking about how Sherrill is pitching the best baseball of his career, and how Trembley is trying to make Bergesen’s arm fall off. He’s become an easy scapegoat at this point, but to a large degree, that’s a corner that he painted himself into. I doubt he’ll have to sweat it for very long, ultimately.


If We Need to Sack Trembley (WNST, get it?), I’m on board 100%, and pulling for Don Baylor as the replacement, but not in response to yesterday. As Jay-Z might say, I got 99 problems with Trembley, but pulling Bergesen yesterday ain’t one.