This baseball manager business isn’t quite as easy as it looks

ST. PETERSBURG – Everyone loves to play manager. It is one of the real joys of watching baseball.

Between the pace of the game and the plethora of numbers at our disposal, there are about half a dozen key moments in each game where a fan at home can announce strategy before a manager’s decision.

Do you hit and run? Is it time to pull a pitcher? pinch hit? Is it time for a defensive replacement? We scream to the rooftops when our verified strategy works, and we instantly forget the many times they would have blown us up.

So tell me what would you do today if you were Kevin Cash?

Because the Rays manager faces a dangerous dance between winning the regular season and preparing for the postseason. He also faces the choice of doing what is right for the entire team and being responsible for individual careers.

In short, he’s stuck in a no man’s land of impossible choices.

I was reminded of that while watching Sunday’s game against the Tigers. For a harmless afternoon affair against a non-division opponent, it was still a critical game of Tampa Bay’s season.

Rays starter Drew Rasmussen has a brief outing against the Tigers on Sunday, and it’s not because of bad places. [ CARLOS OSORIO | AP ]

The Rays had gone weeks without winning a single series. So Sunday’s result would mean the difference between a satisfying 3-1 series win or a disappointing 2-2 draw against a last-place team.

With that in mind, Cash had decided before the game even started that starting pitcher Drew Rasmussen would not pitch more than three innings.

Now you might be wondering why.

(Or you could yell WHAT THE %$#&?)

The answer is complex. Rasmussen may be 27 but has never pitched more than 100 innings in a pro season. He had Tommy John surgery midway through his sophomore season in college, less than two years later a second Tommy John surgery.

Both the Brewers (who drafted him in 2018) and the Rays (who acquired him in 2021) are aware of his medical history. That’s why Rasmussen hadn’t gone more than 90 innings in any pro season prior to Sunday. After the third inning against the Tigers, he was at 91.1 innings for 2022.

Now it’s not that the Rays aren’t ready to take him to new heights. He’ll certainly go 100 innings over the next few months and could surpass 130 innings by the end of the postseason.

But the Rays aren’t keen on the idea of ​​Rasmussen jumping from 89.1 innings last season to more than 150 innings this season, so they’re now managing his workload so they don’t shut him down during a potential playoff series have to.

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And Cash was willing to risk the wrath of the critics in a pretty important game against the Tigers, with the Mariners, Orioles and Indians hot on his heels in the wildcard race.

As it turned out, the bullpen was great and the offense came alive in the ninth inning and the Rays took their series win by defeating the Tigers 7-0.

The innings are also adding up for Ray's starter Jeffrey Springs.
The innings are also adding up for Ray’s starter Jeffrey Springs. [ CARLOS OSORIO | AP ]

But the choices won’t end there, and they won’t be limited to Rasmussen.

Jeffrey Springs and Corey Kluber have already pitched more innings than any season since 2018, and Shane McClanahan is just one inning away from a new career high.

All three of these starters have also seen their ERAs increase significantly on recent outings, which could be coincidence or a sign that their arms are getting tired.

And so cash and pitching coach Kyle Snyder must find a way to keep the rotation intact over the next eight weeks while trying to secure a wildcard and make sure their starters don’t run on steam as the Rays head into the postseason reach October.

Help could come from the casualty list along the way. Yonny Chirinos throws again. That’s Tyler Glasnow. These guys probably won’t show up at Tropicana Field pitching six innings straight, but they could give the rotation a break while they work as an opener.

Luis Patino is also throwing again at Triple-A Durham and could offer depth of rotation if he ever gets his command under control.

And by the way, the Rays need to pull off all that juggling without burning out the bullpen, which proved to be a problem in the 2020 postseason.

It worked in Detroit on Sunday, but who knows what will happen in Milwaukee on Tuesday.

Do you still think you would enjoy being a big league manager?

John Romano can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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