Something is wrong with Matt Guerrier.
Well, let's backtrack a bit. Last night, Francisco Liriano dueled with Max Scherzer over seven innings in the type of game that bores casual fans but delights hardcores. Both pitchers were at the top of their game; Scherzer mowed down the Twins hitters for nine impressive frames but hiccuped in the sixth inning and yielded a single run, while Liriano executed big pitches and performed well enough to exit after the seventh with a 1-0 lead.
It's a shame that Ron Gardenhire, a man whose bullpen management I typically commend, felt the need to engage in a needless chess match with his relievers that ultimately cost Liriano a win and could have cost the Twins the game.
With Liriano gassed after seven innings, Gardenhire rightfully turned to his best reliever, Jesse Crain, to start the eighth. Crain gave up a lead-off single to Austin Jackson but then got Will Rhymes to pop out on a bunt attempt. With one out and the tying run on first, and lefty-swinging Johnny Damon due up, Gardy decided to flex his managerial muscle and counter the Detroit lefty with one of his own. He turned to Randy Flores. The manager was ostensibly playing the percentages, but Flores has not proven to be a particularly effective weapon against lefties (certainly not more effective than Crain, whose devastating slider baffles hitters from both sides) and Damon doesn't have much of a platoon split.
Gardenhire's move completely fizzled when Jim Leyland subbed lefty-mashing righty Ryan Raburn to face the southpaw. Fortunately, Flores was able to get a strikeout anyway. With MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera stepping in and representing the tying run, Gardenhire elected to turn to Matt Guerrier.
This is where he lost me.
I could understand the reasoning behind Gardy's prior moves in the inning. Tying run on base, you want to get the lefty-lefty match-up, maybe preserve Crain a little bit... sure, you use Flores. But when I saw Gardenhire call upon Guerrier from the bullpen, I shook my head. Guerrier hasn't been effective lately, and he'd worked in three of the team's past five games. Why not let him rest a little? I wondered to myself (and to my tweeps) why the team was unwilling to turn to Matt Capps for a four-out save. They traded one of their best prospects for the guy, you'd think they'd be willing to trust him to come in and get one extra out against the opposing team's best hitter.
As I questioned the decision, I decided to put my perception that Guerrier has been struggling to the test. So I looked up his numbers since the All-Star break. His ERA sat at 4.50 -- not too bad. He'd allowed only 15 hits and five walks in 20 innings, which is actually quite good. Then I looked at this strikeouts. He had four. Guerrier has struck out four of the 76 batters he'd faced since the All-Star break.
He came into the game, walked Miguel Cabrera, gave up a game-tying RBI single to Jhonny Peralta and then got Brandon Inge to ground out and end the inning. That pushes Guerrier's post-break total to 79 batters with only four strikeouts.
Guerrier has never been a strikeout artist, but that type of minuscule whiff rate makes Nick Blackburn look good. It's irresponsible to repeatedly trust a guy that's allowing contact that frequently high-leverage late-game situations. Yet, Gardenhire continues to do it, and did it again last night.
That appearance marked Guerrier's 62nd of the season, which ranks him third in the American League. Guerrier is being used more than almost any other reliever in the league, and he's breaking down late in the season. We've seen this exact story before. More than once.
It's one lesson that Gardenhire just refuses to learn. Brian Fuentes' unavailability puts the Twins' manager in a bit of a bind, but there was no reason he really needed to use Guerrier last night and he should be taking any possible opportunity to rest him because at this point the righty reliever isn't fooling anybody and it's hard to believe his taxed arm isn't running on fumes.