You’re killing me Dan Wheeler.
Note: This only includes Wheeler’s 8th inning and not the .1 inning pitched at the end of the 7th.
Did Joe Maddon leave Wheeler in too long? It’s easy to look back on the moves that didn’t work but Wheeler looked terrible in the 8th inning last night. He was constantly missing up in the zone — he was actually reminding me of watching classic Scott Munter — and when you top out at 90mph, going upstairs might not be your best approach to getting hitters out. It wasn’t just Wheeler that struggled either. Grant Balfour*, the Rays best reliever this year and a favorite of mine, ran into trouble in the 7th and had to be bailed out by Wheeler.
*Speaking of Balfour his numbers from this year are ridiculous: 58.1 IP, 28 H, 10 ER, 3 HR, 24 BB, 82 SO, 1.54 ERA. Maybe the coolest thing about Balfour is that he only throws one pitch; his fastball. According to FanGraphs, Balfour threw his fastball 91.3% of the time at an average of 94.6mph. That’s Mariano Rivera territory for dominance with one pitch. Rivera threw his cutter 82% of the time this year. It’s amazing that hitters know what Balfour is going to do and they’ve still struggled to hit him.
Wheeler enters the 8th and gives up a 2-run HR to JD Drew who yanks a fastball down the pipe into the RF stands and then retires the next two hitters, Lowrie and Casey, before giving up a loud double to Mark Kotsay that was just out of the reach of Bossman Junior. At this point, I’m not sure what I would have done if I were Maddon. Even when Wheeler was getting guys out in the 8th inning, he wasn’t exactly looking dominant and his control was all over the place. JP Howell — who eventually ran into his own trouble in the 9th — was in the bullpen for Maddon at this time but with Coco Crisp at the plate — he’s got a better career split against LHP — I can see why he might have been reluctant to bring in JP. Even to my untrained eye, Wheeler did not look good and I think I would have taken my chances with Howell — who has been used in high leverage situations this year and against LHB’s. Howell dominated both RHB’s and LHB’s this year and had to be a better option than Wheeler.
As it ends up, Maddon leaves in Wheeler and to Coco Crisp’s credit, he had a great AB. Crisp battles for 10 pitches before lining a single into RF that scores Kotsay from second to tie the game at 7-7. The Red Sox eventually win the game in the 9th. Tough loss for the Rays, but I’ll still be rooting for them.
Comment Starter: What would you have done?