Bullpen trio saves near-perfect gem by Eovaldi

Managerial decisions in this age of pitch counts and crowded bullpens often lead to head-scratching among fans. The Yankees’ Joe Girardi and the Diamondbacks’ Chip Hale made questionable moves Wednesday night that in the end proved more costly to Arizona.

The Yankees avoided being swept in the series by the D-backs with a 4-2 victory in the finale, but Girardi put himself on the spot when he decided to remove Nathan Eovaldi after six nearly perfect innings and turn the final three innings over to the power arms of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. It worked out eventually, but it was touch-and-go there for a while.

Betances walked the first two batters in the seventh, then bounced back to retire the next three hitters, two on strikeouts. Miller hung a 0-2 slider to Chris Owings, who homered leading off the eighth to cut the Yanks’ lead to 3-2, and then struck out the next three hitters. A run in the top of the ninth on a bases-loaded wild pitch provided insurance for Chapman, who did not need it as he retired the side in order in the bottom of the inning to notch his fourth save.

Utilizing all three flame throwers in the same game for the third time was a sign of the importance Girardi placed on winning this game. Earlier in the day, principal owner Hal Steinbrenner leveled criticism at some players and singled out pitchers Luis Severino and Michael Pineda, first baseman Mark Texeira and third baseman Chade Headley. Tex had another tough game (0-for-5, three strikeouts). Headley was 2-for-4 but made a hesitating play in the field in the first inning that allowed the only run charged to Eovaldi, who was nothing short of magnificent.

Brett Gardner’s two-run home run in the first gave Eovaldi a lead before he took the mound. Jean Segura led off with a grounder up the middle that struck the second base bag with the second baseman legging out a double. He crossed to third on a groundout and came home on another, although he stopped in the base path at one point but Headley threw to first base for the sure out.

Eovaldi retired 18 batters in a row following Segura’s hit. The righthander kept the ball down and got 10 outs on ground balls to go with five strikeouts. Of the three fly ball outs against him, two were caught in foul ground. Eovaldi threw 85 pitches through six innings, so it was something of a surprise not to see him come out for the seventh. Girardi admitted he would have kept Eovaldi in the game if he were still working on a no-hitter but added he would not hesitate to use the Betances-Miller-Chapman combine when they were well rested and the opportunity presented itself.

Hale’s questionable decision came in the sixth inning with the score 2-1 Yankees. Eovaldi helped himself with the bat by dropping a sacrifice bunt to move Headley to second base with two out. Hale went to the mound to talk to D-backs starter Shelby Miller but let him pitch to Jacoby Ellsbury, who had already reached base three times in the game and had never made an out against Miller. That statement held when Ellsbury hit a ground single to left that scored Headley and made Ellsbury 6-for-6 in his career against Miller. Ellsbury reached base five times in the game with a double, two singles and two walks and scored on the ninth-inning wild pitch. Right behind him was Gardner with two hits, a run and two RBI.

Eovaldi has four consecutive winning decisions over his past five starts with a 3.48 ERA over 31 innings. Chase Field is also something of a home away from home for Eovaldi, who in six career games (five starts) in the Phoenix yard is 3-0 with a 2.67 ERA in 30 1/3 innings and has held opponents to a .165 batting average in 103 at-bats.

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