Few things set social media ablaze like a manager doing something he does not usually do. When that manager has been around for more than 20 years, and has a legacy of being criticized, there is amplification of the standard outrage.
After Washington Nationals closer Sean Doolittle entered in the eighth inning Thursday in Houston, the digital gasping ensued. Washington manager Dusty Baker had decided to flip his usage of Doolittle and setup man — and former Minnesota closer — Brandon Kintzler. The left-handed Doolittle was in to face two left-handed hitters and a switch-hitter who were coming up in the eighth. The right-handed Kintzler, who has reverse splits, was in place to face three right-handed hitters in the ninth, if Houston went 1-2-3 in the eighth.
This was the first time since the two arrived via trade before the July 31 deadline that Baker had decided to switch them. Doolittle was 12-for-12 in save chances as the Washington closer. Kintzler was rolling as a setup man, first in the seventh inning, then in the eighth following Ryan Madson’s finger injury.
Thursday, Doolittle had a rough time in the eighth. Kintzler blew the save in the ninth. That left Baker to explain.
First, a look at the process here: Doolittle has dominated left-handed hitters. They are hitting .147 against him this season. Bringing him in flips Carlos Beltran to the right side. Beltran is hitting .202 this season from the right side. Beltran was also 5-for-5 career against Kintzler. With that in mind, Baker deployed Doolittle in what he thought was the best situation for him.
“I really didn’t want Kinzler to start the inning off facing Beltran,” Baker said Friday. “He’s 5-for-5 off him. Do I take a chance [with] the law of averages on my side? If I’m Beltran, I’m thinking 6-for-6 because you got that positive vibe against this particular guy or he has that negative vibe going against you. But, I told you guys I was going to do [matchup] when we got them in the first place. There are no absolutes. Sometimes things don’t work out.”
Baker had mentioned in the past that he wanted Kintzler to reach the 30-save mark after he picked up 28 with Minnesota. He said his “homies” told him that statement was mentioned on the broadcast by Nationals color commentator F.P. Santangelo as a possible reason for the switching of roles.
“It wouldn’t be at the expense of that game,” Baker said. “I was going with trying to save that game.”
Baker went on to tell a story about advice he received when he first became a major-league manager. Baker said it came from a “long time baseball person” and was some of the worst advice he had received. He was counseled to always throw a right-handed pitcher versus a right-handed hitter and vice-versa. That way, he couldn’t be criticized if it did not work (this, obviously, was a different era of information and strategy).
“Like I told you, that was some of the worst advice I ever got,” Baker said.
One thing to note about Baker going with the matchups though it took his pitchers from their typical spots: Accepted thought is that roles don’t matter; managers should use their most effective pitchers in their most effective spots. That’s what Baker was trying to do Thursday. It didn’t work. He was skewered in the expected fashion and places.
Going forward, including in October, Baker said he may matchup that way again.
“I ain’t scared,” Baker said. “If it don’t work, boom, I got a reason. I’d rather do that then know I’m not doing the right thing just to cover my ass. Know what I mean?”
• Todd Dybas can be reached at email@example.com.
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