The Braves entered Sunday’s game with an 11-game lead in the East, a five-game lead for the National League’s best record and a 3-1/2-game lead for the top record in MLB. Were this the NBA, Sunday would have had Load Management written all over it. Instead …
It began the way most games do. Ronald Acuna got a hit. He stole a base. He scored a run. It was 3-0 before the woebegone Mets – who, with a loss, would have slipped into last place – came to bat. It was 3-1 in the bottom of the fifth. Yonny Chirinos, waived by the American League’s then-best team and now a fifth starter for baseball’s best team, was pitching well enough. Complications ensued.
Bottom of the fifth: single, single, groundout/run, single, groundout, walk. With two out and the bases loaded, the Braves led 3-2. Chirinos had thrown 91 pitches, the most in his four Braves’ starts. Had this game meant something, Snitker might have pulled him. He let him throw four more pitches. None were strikes. Chirinos exited with the game tied.
Collin McHugh, not among the highest-leverage relievers, was summoned. He walked in the go-ahead run. A weird play – catcher’s interference – brought home another run. Rafael Ortega’s single made it 7-3. The Braves lost 7-6.
On another night, Snitker might have deployed his pitchers differently. Sometimes, though, it’s better to risk a loss than to tax important arms more than they’ve already been taxed. Chirinos isn’t here to lift the Braves to the playoffs. He’s here to eat innings en route to the playoffs. He’s here so Michael Soroka and AJ Smith-Shawver don’t have to keep riding the Gwinnett shuttle.
(Soroka and Smith-Shawver figure to be here in September. Kyle Wright might be, too. Chirinos might not.)
With his everyday-eight-plus-DH, Snitker is a let-’em-play guy. With pitchers, there’s always a bigger picture. Chirinos’ ERA as a Brave is 9.33. He has, however, worked 18-1/3 innings somebody else didn’t have to work.
Sunday marked the first Chirinos start the Braves didn’t win, though his first three turns saw them score 30 runs. And, to be fair, he exited Sunday with the score tied.
A manager is paid to manage every game, but not all games are equal. Snitker never starts a non-competitive lineup, but he will, for the sake of arm health, go with a lesser starter and/or lesser relievers. The Jim Leyland quote: “It’s not always the best staff that wins. It’s the healthiest.”
If you’re a Braves’ fan, you wonder why Chirinos keeps getting starts. As a wise scribe told me long ago, the most important stat over 162 game is innings pitched. Innings don’t work themselves. The 2022 Braves logged 1,448 innings. Thirty-one pitchers were required. Twelve of those started games.
The Braves got through Sunday night using only Chirinos, McHugh and Kirby Yates. They didn’t win, but it wasn’t a total loss. They resume play with the bullpen as fresh as it can be after an eight-game week, and Max Fried goes tonight.
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