Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has been both praised and criticized for his management of the bullpen during his tenure in Toronto.
On Opening Day this past Monday between the Blue Jays and Orioles, despite the loss, there were still plenty of good things to take from that game for Toronto.
If there was one thing that kind of got under my skin, it was how John Gibbons handled Joe Smith in the 10th inning. Don’t get me wrong, I like Gibbons, but going back to his first run as Blue Jays manager from 2004-2008, something which I’ve often not agreed with is how quick he is to pull certain relievers.
In his most recent go around with Toronto (2013-present), he’s been far better than he was during his first tenure as manager when it comes to this sort of thing. Except on Opening Day however, it was the same old Gibbons when it comes to choosing the wrong time to change relievers. I’d like for him to show a little more trust in his relievers and not be so darn concerned about his precious match-ups. Match-ups are obviously important, but what Gibbons fails to realize is that it’s often more important to stick with a certain pitcher and show your trust in them rather than have your absolute ideal match-up.
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In the bottom of the 10th inning of Monday’s game, Joe Smith had made quick work of both Jonathan Schoop and J.J. Hardy, and then was set to face left-handed hitter Seth Smith with two outs. Rather than let Joe Smith attempt to finish the inning, Gibbons called to the bullpen for left-handed reliever Aaron Loup. Baltimore manager Buck Showalter immediately countered by pinch hitting right handed batter Trey Mancini for Seth Smith.
It’s not like Joe Smith is a slouch against lefties (they have a .244 AVG against him), but I question how much of difference there is between having a right-handed pitcher (Joe Smith) vs a left-handed batter (Seth Smith) compared to a left-handed pitcher (Loup) vs a right-handed batter (Mancini). Certainly Gibbons would have known Showalter would counter his pitching change, so why not just stick with the hot handed Joe Smith instead of pulling him like that, in the very first regular season game he’s ever played for the Blue Jays.
Smith’s reaction upon seeing Gibbons walking out of the dugout to remove him was so similar to what I’ve seen countless times before with previous Blue Jay relievers, who rightly believed it wasn’t time for them to be coming out of the game. If Smith’s look could be expressed in words, it would have said “I just got the first two outs of this inning on four freakin’ pitches and you’re pulling me NOW?”
Sometimes a manager needs to think outside the box and not be so concerned with having what he believes to be the ideal match-up. Different situations call for different responses, and on Monday, when Joe Smith recorded the first two outs of the bottom of the 10th inning on four pitches, Gibbons should have shown a little more faith in his recently signed reliever, and kept him in the ball game to try and finish the inning.