CLEVELAND -- John Farrell is fighting himself. More than he might realize, he’s willing to mix up his bullpen usage in a way that’s smart. But in some of the most crucial innings, Farrell will stubbornly and perhaps reflexively revert to tradition and a false sense of role -- one that actually runs counter to the logic the manager employs at other times.
Look at the big cat, Craig Kimbrel, who was again left in the bullpen Monday night as the eighth and ninth innings deteriorated in a 5-4 Red Sox loss to the Indians.
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It’s all about the inning with Kimbrel, you see -- or in Monday’s case, it's a matter of when Farrell would have been forced to use him.
“[If] I use Kimbrel tonight, [he'll] need . . . one, if not two days off,” Farrell said. “That's why you need the contributions from everyone.”
But the indication was Kimbrel was available for a save, or perhaps the 10th inning when the lineup turned over again. If he needs rest, rest him. Farrell did not say that Kimbrel was down entirely.
But the eighth inning? No, that’d be lunacy.
“I know that there’s this overriding thought that you can just drop Craig Kimbrel in anywhere from the sixth inning to the ninth inning,” Farrell said Friday. “And with all due respect, there’s a lot more that goes into it than just that. We’ve used Craig for four outs or more this year. And there’s a willingness to do that.
“But when we’re completely rested down there, there are roles [in which] guys have performed very well . . . And there’s a reason why our bullpen has excelled to the point they have. There are roles that are established and they pitch to them.”
Seriously, what roles? The roles change as often as Farrell’s logic defending them, aside from Kimbrel’s overwhelming need to be in save situations.
The Sox were not “completely rested” on Monday, for one. Addison Reed was unavailable entirely.
But step back for a moment, and look at the overall usage of the reliever who initially got the Red Sox into trouble Monday in the eighth, Matt Barnes.
The righty this year has pitched in the sixth inning three times. He’s been used in the seventh inning 18 times and the eighth inning 29 times, including Monday.
Another nine times, Barnes has pitched in the ninth or later. Fourteen times, he’s made multi-inning appearances.
Does that sound like a rigid role to you?
When Farrell spoke recently of his plan for using Reed and Barnes, it sounded pretty darn progressive.
"Addision, we’ve initially said it’s the eighth inning," Farrell said. "We’ve used him accordingly based on where we are in the lineup and based on the potential of running threats . . . As we map out the seventh and eighth inning, it’s going to be Barnes and Addison and we’ll see where the right matchups provide themselves.”
So what matters more, lineup position and running threats, or what inning it is?
Depends which reliever Farrell is talking about on which night, or maybe which way the wind is blowing.
For Monday night, Barnes all of a sudden was a reliever with a role.
“On a night when not everyone's available, [Barnes is] the one that has had the most experience in the eighth inning against both lefties and righties,” Farrell said.
Experience in a particular inning, now that’s the primary factor for Barnes? What about the fact Barnes has been terrible on the road lately?
What about the fact that Brandon Workman has a 1.40 ERA, or that Farrell said before the game Workman is now in the high-leverage mix?
Workman gave up a leadoff double on Monday in the ninth inning. He might have blown the eighth inning anyway. Farrell also prefers a clean inning for Workman, and wanted to avoid using the righty Monday for workload reasons as well.
But Workman was, indeed, available. So why let extra innings or a tie game in the ninth force you to use him, as opposed to pitching him at a time he perhaps could have protected the lead?
Workman in the eighth could have thrown in place of either Barnes or Heath Hembree. The latter’s done worse than anyone on the Sox with inherited runners and came on to try to clean up Barnes’ mess. Workman has six inherited runners this year and none have scored.
But Workman has a role. Except he doesn’t. Or if he does, it’s as loosely defined as everybody else’s, save for the guy who can only get saves.