With Sergio Romo making a couple of calculated starts for the Tampa Bay Rays, some in the baseball world are saying that this may be a glimpse at the future. Romo essentially made two relief appearances this weekend; they just happened to occur in the first inning.
The Mets have been providing a similar glimpse at the future of how pitching in baseball is handled in the bullpen.
Romo’s starts ate up the first few outs of a game, and effectively, shortened the games to eight-inning affairs, enabling the games to be decided by matchups while Romo took care of what is the lowest-leverage of all innings; the first.
Although the Mets aren’t employing this approach to starting a game as yet, they have employed several relievers this season capable of pitching multiple innings. They also have utilized the 40-man roster to rotate in pitchers like Corey Oswalt and Chris Flexen, to make certain a long-man is available for any game.
Unlike the role of the traditional long-man, to mop up innings of games in which a starter was ineffective, almost invariably ending in lopsided losses, Mickey Callaway has employed his long-men to bridge the gap between short, moderately effective starts, or in high leverage late innings situations for multiple innings.
The Mets’ long men triumvirate of Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, and Paul Sewald seem to be the direct complement to the starting Romo plan. The three men have effectively formed a second “starting rotation,” they just happen to ‘start’ in relief, and they get to start at any point where it is most necessary.
Sometimes, they are used to bridge a four-inning start to the eighth inning, sometimes to keep a game close in the middle innings, or in the case of the third win of the series against the Diamondbacks, for a four-out save by Gsellman.
When Jacob deGrom went just one-inning against the Phillies, Sewald and Gsellman combined for five innings of relief, essentially acting as a starter on that day. Although the result in that game wasn’t optimal, the overall result was positive.
A game in which a starter lasted just one inning and the bullpen had to give you eight innings, didn’t set the team back for days. This was because of the routine nature of these pitchers being asked to go multiple innings on a consistent basis, and their pedigree as starters in the cases of Gsellman and Lugo.
Bullpen management has been an issue around the Mets for several years, and in a league where the average pitcher’s start is around 5.42 innings, the notion that “they can’t always rely on the bullpen” is pie in the sky type stuff.
Ultimately, you are going to need between nine and 12 outs from the bullpen on a daily basis. With that being said, and a relief pitcher being asked to give a team the first inning on what is now multiple occasions, we aren’t that far off from not only a starting rotation, but perhaps a long man bullpen rotation as well.
Arguably, the Mets might have that at the moment already.