McLaren drops debut, torches bullpen in the process

Let's go ahead and begin this conversation with the understanding that John McLaren's managing style will be developed over weeks and months, not three hours, 20 minutes and 11 innings.

That said, I think there are some things worth noting in this, his first game as manager.

The thing that obviously sticks out above all others was his use of the pitching staff tonight, which probably cost the M's the game. It just seemed like a classic case of overmanaging, which might be expected given that the guy hasn't managed his own baseball team in about 20 years.

It started with his decision to pull Felix after eight innings, but just 92 pitches. Following a rocky first inning, Felix was on cruise control most of the rest of the way, and there was no real reason to pull him from a tie game. I haven't seen anything from McLaren yet on his decision to pull Felix, but I presume it was because David DeJesus -- he of the two hits, including a home run, off Hernandez -- was leading off the ninth. (UPDATE: Felix says he was gassed from the humidity.)

But ... who knew how long the game was going to last? Seems logical to ride that horse as long as he'll let you ride him. Especially since pulling Hernandez opened a can of worms McLaren wasn't prepared to deal with. It resulted in him burning through three relievers -- Eric O'Flaherty, Sean Green and George Sherrill -- to get three outs in the ninth inning of a tie game.

Of course, O'Flaherty put him in a bad spot by giving up two quick hits, but turning to Green was a bad option to begin with. McLaren clearly had no intention of letting Green pitch past Emil Brown, given Green's horrendous .364/.511/.455 line against lefties. My guess is McLaren was hoping for a DP out of Green, but when he didn't get it, he was left with no choice but to turn to Sherrill. The better option would have been to turn to Sherrill in the first place -- he's been equally effective against both righties and lefties.

Three relievers. Three outs. A game that could have gone on indefinitely with just three relievers remaining.

Saddled with an offense that couldn't get a hit with runners in scoring position, McLaren had no choice but to turn to Brandon Morrow for as long as he could go, because he only had two other pitchers left: Rookie Ryan Rowland-Smith (he of the 2 1/3 career major league innings) and J.J. Putz (who presumably was being held back for a save situation). (UPDATE: Putz was unavailable tonight.)

It backfired, as Morrow proved once again that his command simply isn't yet good enough for extended appearances.

I won't crucify McLaren for what looks like a pretty bad bit of bullpen management tonight. After all, it was only game one, and one has figure he's going to learn from it. But for those who say managers tend to have a relatively negligent impact on teams, McLaren deserves a fair share of the blame for tonight's loss.

That said, I feel good about the next two days, even if the eight-game winning streak is now over. As Bill Kruger said tonight on FSN, this was the very best the Royals have to throw at us, and you have to believe that a team that has hit nearly .300 with runners in scoring position this year won't be stranding nine runners again.

So, here's to taking the next two from the Royals and moving on to Oakland to finish the first half out strong. Let's hope McLaren's bullpen shenanigans don't have a lasting effect.

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