Bad Gorzelanny bullpen meltdown, wasted start, loss to a team we should’ve beaten, blah blah blah whatever. I’ve written the post-mortem for this loss countless times the past four years. Tonight, I want to talk about John Russell.
I’m going to be up front. I like John Russell. I know a lot of people don’t. I don’t bring it up because I don’t think the manager is worth fighting over. People get worked up over batting order, I don’t. Sometimes JR loves the bunt a little bit too much, but I’ve accepted that just about every manager does. Sometimes I think he hooks the pitcher too soon or too late, but I’d think that about anyone that managed the Pirates. And sometimes, it drives me insane that he’s so maddeningly low key, but by all indications the players respect the hell out of the guy that and ultimately, I think that’s all that matters. Unlike the two managers that preceded him, Russell very rarely makes anything about himself, and I think that’s a great quality in a manager.
All that being said there’s nothing that bugs me more than a manager that takes the bat out of the hands of a young player. One of the worst sins the Pirates have committed in the last ten years was relegating Craig Wilson to pinch-hitting duty for the first three years of his career while a parade of faceless stiffs played instead. And so, there’s very little that makes my blood boil more than seeing Ramon Vazquez called upon to pinch hit for Andy LaRoche in the ninth inning of a one-run game. Russell did something similar last week and I censored myself. I won’t this time. It’s complete bullshit.
I could run out splits that support my point, but there’s no reason. Andy LaRoche is one of the most important Pirates on the team going forward and since his awful start, he’s been one of the best hitters on the team (.304/.381/.461 since April 17th before Friday’s game, in which he added another hit). His awful stint with the Pirates last year combined with his hitless streak this year would’ve been enough to make some managers give up on a guy. Russell didn’t, and while the front office certainly deserves some credit for that, Russell’s a part of it as well. But my god, there’s nothing more emasculating for a hitter than to be pinch-hit for with the game on the line and there’s just no way to justify trotting Vazquez up there tonight (or any of the nights that it’s happened recently) instead of LaRoche. You want to give LaRoche a night off to get Vazquez some swings against a tough righty? Be my guest. But Andy LaRoche is the starting third baseman. He’s making a good case for himself as the third baseman of the future. Ramon Vazquez is a utility guy that can’t hit anything right now. Honestly, I can’t think of one thing that Russell could do right now that would piss me off more.