When it comes to managing an MLB baseball game, sometimes the manager needs to make important, yet critical decisions that could ultimately affect the outcome of a ballgame. Among those decisions include having the right fielding alignments, putting runners in motion when hitting, determining an ideal lineup order, and most importantly, deciding on the right time to take out and/or bring in players during a game.
In recent days, it appears as though some Toronto Blue Jays pitchers have expressed their frustrations with manager John Schneider with regards to some quick hooks he was giving to the starting pitchers. Last Friday, José Berríos was cruising along with a 2-1 lead heading into the sixth inning with his pitch count still well below 100, looking to give one to two more strong innings before handing it over to their recently superb bullpen. Berríos looked strong and got Arizona Diamondbacks second baseman Ketel Marte to strikeout for the first out of the inning. The next batter, Corbin Carroll, managed to fight off a tough 1-2 slurve by Berríos for a single, but Berríos still looked like he was still in command most of the time. However, to his displeasure, he was given the hook by Schneider, even though he believed he could still finish off the inning strong.
On Sunday, another similar situation arose for Jays’ starter Yusei Kikuchi. This time, the game was tied 2-2, but Kikuchi appeared to be rolling right along despite his early blips in the first two innings. In the fifth inning, he had just retired eight of the last nine batters he faced, when Emmanuel Rivera battled Kikuchi and worked a full-count pitch for a walk with two outs. With his pitch count only at 89, Schneider would come out once again and end Kikuchi’s day a little prematurely, despite Kikuchi showing obviously discontent with the decision.
For Berríos case, it might have made a little more sense, since he was facing the lineup for a third time and hitters are hitting close to .300 against him in such instances in 2023. In addition, managers tend to want to remove their pitcher at a time in the game in which they can still get the winning decision and not end up with a loss after a job well done for the day, so since Carroll reached first base as the potential tying run, removing Berríos would guarantee that he gets a win or, at worst, a potential no-decision.
But for Kikuchi, he was one out away from qualifying for a decision. Managers usually side with their pitcher in giving them all the opportunities possible to get through five innings so that they could end up with a winning decision, if the team happens to come through with the go-ahead runs before the pitcher exits the game. With Kikuchi going strong, it was highly likely he would have gotten the final out and guess what, the Jays did end up scoring a run in the bottom of the fifth inning, but Kikuchi ended up with a no-decision because he went only 4.2 innings.
As per the Toronto Star, after the game, Schneider explained his viewpoint on the situation.
"It was pitch count. He was scuffling early with his command, I thought … Fastball command was kind of hit and miss. Curveball and changeup kind of the same thing. When he was getting better, it was better fastball command to go with the slider. But he never really got the other two pitches going today … I get where every starter gets mad when they come out. I think if he had a lower pitch count, it would be a different story."
Kikuchi certainly didn’t think so, at least from his in-game expressions, but chose the correct words to somewhat ease the situation post-game.
"I’m not too sure. It’s something that’s out of my hands. I can’t control that. So, I’m just doing what I’m asked … I felt a little bit off the first couple of innings, a little bit off-balance. But after the second inning, I regrouped, relaxed and just attacked the hitters … My goal’s always to throw longer, one extra batter and all that. But all I can do is what I can to help the team win. We came out on top today. That’s all that matters."
Nevertheless, it will be a situation the Jays will need to closely monitor in the coming days and weeks, because the last thing they would want to do is upset the current winning flow in the clubhouse with some disagreement between the players and the manager on how the game should be played. At least to smooth things out for now and the future, perhaps Schneider should just give them the benefit of the doubt the next time around and just see how the consequences play out to show who may be right after all.