Sunday, May 6, 2007

Sowers Struggles, Bullpen Demands Vacation

Game 27 at Baltimore

Jeremy Sower's smoke and mirrors weren't fooling the Orioles on Saturday, as they chased him after two innings while scoring six earned runs. Sowers didn't have his usual focus and had trouble finding the strike zone. The pitches that did make it in got crushed by the Oriole's lineup as their consistent attack plated six runs on six hits.

Sowers usually pitches with ice water in his veins, but was visibly rattled on the mound and in the dugout as he watched his handiwork fly around the ballpark. The main problem was a lack of control, resulting in a lot of flat balls that were easily hit. So far this year, Sowers has put up four quality starts with two clunkers sandwiched in between. The New York game is a difficult one to criticize, since the defense was a prime contributor to the loss, but the Baltimore game was all on Sowers. Hopefully Jeremy was just having an off-day and gets his command back by the next start.

The highlight of Saturday's game was the season debut of Rafael Perez, who had a nice 1-2-3 5th inning in relief. Perez was called up from Buffalo to relieve pressure on the tired bullpen staff and will probably be sent back down once Marte is ready to return. Perez's breaking pitches looked filthy as he pitched the last three innings of the game.

Game 28 at Baltimore

It took two games, but the Cleveland offense finally showed up to play on Sunday, as they backed up C.C. Sabathia in a 9-6 win at Camden Yards. The Orioles threatened to blow the game wide open in the sixth inning, but Grady Sizemore made a ridiculous, two-out, full-extension catch to rob Corey Patterson and strand three Orioles.

Sizemore's catch quite possibly saved the game, as the bullpen gave up three runs in the 8th and 9th innings to make the final score 9-6. The only thing bigger than Sizemore's awesomeness was Trot Nixon dropping the Grit Bomb on Baltimore's pitching today. Trot had a career high 5 hits, with 4 RBI and 2 runs, showing the kids how it's done. I'm still in the party that everyone on the team should sport Trot's fu-manchu look, how scary would that be? Alright, not that scary, but team-wide facial hair would automatically raise the team's GORP (grit above replacement player) to a 1.8.

The bullpen is definitely feeling the effects of pitching so many innings the last two series. Between the multiple extra inning games, Cliff Lee's inability to go 7 innings, and Sower's 2 inning breakdown, the pen has been working overtime. Cabrera and Betancourt looked gassed today as they gave up three runs, forcing Wedge to bring Borowski in to finish off the last batter in the ninth.

Managing the bullpen at a time like this is very difficult. While the relief corp has been one of the team's greatest strengths this season, it is going to need to see a reduction in appearances to get back on track and stay strong over the long haul. Quality outings from the starters are a must, but that's easier said than done. I was very happy to see Wedge go with Davis and Perez in long relief on Saturday, essentially conceding the game (which the flailing offense finished off anyway), but giving the late inning guys a break.

Things should settle down though, as the number of extra inning games will recede to the mean and Sowers and Westbrook start churning out quality starts like they did all last year.

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