While salary arbitration continues to richly reward relievers for saves, the current trend permeating baseball is for a team to use their “closer” in high leverage situations rather than saving them until the traditional save opportunity arrives. It’s not an unprecedented strategy by any means, but as the Cleveland Indians demonstrated in last year’s postseason usage of Andrew Miller, it is more practical to protect the lead with your strongest bullpen arm when the situation arises. After all, if the highest leverage situation occurs in the seventh inning, how does it do the team any good if an inferior reliever comes in fails?
With that being said, it is interesting that Andy Green turned to rookie Phil Maton in a high leverage situation last night. After Luis Perdomo cruised through the first five innings, he ran into trouble in the sixth, allowing two runs but loading the bases with just one out.
Now, a four run lead may not seem like a particular high leverage situation, but with the bases loaded, a lead can evaporate with just one swing of the bat. Nevertheless, Green sent a reliever to the mound who has less than ten career innings in order to try and shut down the Braves rally instead of struggling closer Brandon Mauer.
To further intensify the challenge, the first batter Maton was set to face was a quietly hot catcher in Tyler Flowers, who is sporting a 146 wRC+ and a .398 wOBA that trails only Buster Posey among catchers with 200 plate appearances. Maton immediately went into attack mode with five straight fastballs but winded up in a full count just before a fastball got away from him, beaning Flowers and leaving this gnarly swelling.
With the lead down to three and the bases still loaded, Maton induced a groundball to second, but it gave former Padre Matt Kemp an opportunity to narrow the lead to two. Next, fellow rookie Johan Camargo stepped up to the plate, but it would be the last batter of the inning as Maton struck him out with a rising fastball at the top of the zone.
In the end, it wasn’t the smoothest performance considering Maton hit a batter and allowed two unearned runs; however, in that situation, limiting the damage to two runs is more than respectable. Regardless, it’s more noteworthy that Green both chose him for the situation and left him in after beaning the first batter, trusting the innate poise and talent of Maton to bring the inning to a close.
Even if it’s premature to think that Green views Maton as his strongest bullpen weapon, the confidence he has in Maton is growing, which will continue to give San Diego fans ample opportunity to enjoy a glimpse of the burgeoning high leverage reliever.