Dusty Baker has always been criticized for overusing his starting pitching. Critics point to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior as exhibits A and B. Then there is the whole fiasco with Aaron Harang in May of '08.
I always thought he got a raw deal on that label. Wood's delivery made him destined to screw up his arm, and Prior was simply a one-and-a-half-year wonder. Harang seems fine mechanically; he just hasn't been able to avoid the home run ball.
Homer Bailey has recently been placed on the DL, and the critics are starting to blame Baker again. But his shoulder injury has nothing to do with Dusty, and Bailey looks to be ready to go in 15 days. Bailey himself got angry with the media when they tried connecting those dots.
The real problem for Baker and the Reds: his over-reliance on the back end of the bullpen. Sure, seemingly every game has come down to the final few innings. Sure, the Reds boast one of the best setup men in the league. But Arthur Rhodes, Nick Masset, and Francisco Cordero are all on pace to set personal records for appearances.
The 40-year-old Rhodes, who just pitched in his 800th career game, is on pace to pitch in a career-high 74 games. It's hard not to use a guy with a 0.47 ERA and 0.62 WHIP. The problem is that he is ancient in baseball years and needs more rest if the Reds plan on using him in September.
The 28-year-old Masset hasn't pitched well of late, blowing two games in the past week. Yet he is still a reliable setup man that can provide key outs in the eighth inning of a tight game. Giving up an Opening Day grand slam to the Cardinals' Yadier Molina has left Masset's 7.29 ERA as bloated as a Goodyear blimp.
He is projected to pitch in a whopping 88 games. That is 14 more than his career high of last year. He has closer velocity, but injuries are certainly a concern if he keeps this rate up.
Cordero, the $12M, 11-year veteran, has not been his usual dominant self this season. The 35-year-old "Co Co" has already blown three saves—he blew a total of four saves last year.
Is it because of his workload? His current career high in appearances is 77. This year Dusty has him on a pace for 90 games! That's waaay too many. Sure, he's on pace to have 54 saves, but there is no way his arm doesn't fall off before that. In a five-game stretch last week, he pitched in four of them.
Why hasn't Baker used the overpaid Mike Lincoln more? He's only pitched three times since May 8. His ERA is a fat 5.87, but that is the result of two rough outings. Give him the ball a bit more to relieve the relievers.
What about Carlos Fisher? Pitching only twice since May 7, he hasn't had a chance to deflate his 9.39 ERA. He has been better of late and is another fine candidate for a bigger part of the winning formula. After starting off the year on the DL, Fisher is 100 percent, young (27), and hungry for a bigger role. Why not give him a shot?
But the biggest head scratcher of the bunch is the lack of use of Micah Owings. I assume Baker views him as the long reliever, but why not utilize him more often? On pace for only 77 innings, the former starter threw 119.2 innings last year—including a stint on the DL. Clearly this guy has plenty of juice in his arm still. A perfect 3-0, and he averages a strikeout per inning so far.
The 27-year-old righty has a 3.43 ERA and is also a legitimate threat at the plate. Dusty always tiptoes around the pitcher's spot in the batting owner, and Owings is an easy solution. Why can't he be relied upon more often?
Baker has a bad rap for screwing up starting pitchers' arms. Yet the real problem may be the lack of rest for the meat of the bullpen. Rhodes and Cordero are getting to the twilight of their careers and are being worked harder than ever. The results have shown lately in the multiple blown leads over the past week.
The time is now to ease up on them and give some of the others a larger role. If not, Baker could have a new title: reliever wrecker.