Jays Would Like to Deploy Liriano in Similar Fashion to Indians Lefty Miller
The past week alone has provided evidence that managers across Major League Baseball have different opinions when it comes to deploying their various bullpen weapons.
After the Baltimore Orioles saw their season end in the American League wild-card game at the Rogers Centre with Zach Britton, a shutdown reliever who has garnered MVP talk this season, and his minuscule 0.54 ERA still sitting in the bullpen, O’s manager Buck Showalter was under fire.
Probably still is.
From a Toronto Blue Jays point of view, John Gibbons relied on 21-year-old Roberto Osuna, with his shoulder at less than 100%, for a pair of multi-inning outings in the ALDS to ensure things didn’t slip away.
And then there’s Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona and his use of 6-foot-7 lefty Andrew Miller, his manoeuvring and high-leverage usage, unlike Showalter’s, drawing praise from just about everybody around the game.
Common — or archaic, you decide — baseball strategy says you use your best relievers at the end of a ballgame to get the final outs in the eighth or ninth innings.
Bucking convention, Francona called on Miller against the Boston Red Sox with two outs in the fifth inning of Game 1, and then again in Game 3 with nobody out in the sixth inning.
It worked well both times, and the Indians quickly ousted the Red Sox in a three-game sweep of their own.
The Indians gave up a big package at the trade deadline to acquire Miller from the New York Yankees, and they did it with important outs at this time of year in mind.
“It’s a big weapon they traded for,” Jays manager John Gibbons said. “They were really good before that with Cody Allen down there and (Bryan) Shaw. In a lot of ways, it was like us adding Andrew Miller. You’ve got Osuna late and, of course, we’ve got (Jason) Grilli and those guys, so he became, really, the perfect swing guy for them.
“I heard when he came over he basically told them, ‘Use me any way you want,’ and that doesn’t happen all the time, either. It’s a great weapon for them, but they were sitting pretty good, too, with a pretty good bullpen to begin with before they got him. He just adds a lot to it.”
There aren’t many Millers around — southpaws with an unhittable swing-and-miss slider who can touch 98 mph and get both lefties and righties out without much trouble — but Gibbons has an arm he’d like to deploy in a similar fashion.
Health permitting, it’s Francisco Liriano.
“He’s potentially got a chance to be that big swing guy for us, too,” Gibbons said Tuesday. “But that’s still up in the air and he wouldn’t be available until that second game.”
Liriano, of course, is still recovering from a concussion he suffered late in Game 2 of the ALDS when he took a rocket off the bat of Carlos Gomez in the back of the head.
The 32-year-old was sent home from the Rogers Centre on Sunday complaining of dizziness, but is now close to being given a clean bill of health.
“A little dizziness in the first couple of days, but everything’s gone, so I feel back to normal now,” said Liriano, who played catch Tuesday and rode a stationary bike for about 10 minutes. “No headache, no dizziness, no nothing.
“I’m just doing what I have to do, playing catch and throw a bullpen, probably, in the next couple of days and be ready for Saturday.”
Liriano is eligible to return seven days after being taken off the ALDS roster, which means, if all goes well, he won’t be eligible to return until Game 2 of the ALCS on Saturday.
Despite the scary incident in Texas — Liriano, who was hit behind the right ear, says it’s the first time he has been hit in the head by a comebacker — has no second thoughts about returning to the mound.
“Negative thoughts don’t help, so I’m just going to go out there and try to get some people out and whatever happens, happens,” Liriano said. “I don’t think negative, so I don’t like to think like that.”
While it remains to be seen if Liriano can have an impact, get important outs in various situations, and provide a big boost to a paper-thin Jays bullpen, the Toronto bats know Miller, who punched out a ridiculous 14.89 batters per nine innings and held a 1.45 ERA this season, will be a challenge.
“From what I’ve watched in that series, he’s been awesome,” Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar said. “He’s been that nice bridge between the starter and the back end of their bullpen, and his ability to go out there and throw multiple innings is definitely a challenge. He’s a guy we’re somewhat familiar with from spending the last couple of years in New York, so it’s not anything new. He hasn’t really reinvented himself. He’s special, he’s talented, but he’s a guy that everyone on this team has faced and we know what to expect.”
These days, however, they don’t really know when they’ll see Miller.
It could be the fifth inning, it could be the eighth, or at any point in between.
It all depends what Francona deems to be a potential turning point in the ball game.
“We’re going to have to face him, probably, multiple times and we’ll get together as a group with our hitting coaches and our scouts and we’ll figure out what’s the best way to attack him and that’s how we’ll go about our business,” Pillar said.