The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Baseball Blog

May 17, 2009

Relief rotation

The Monday print column will address the Twins bullpen woes and the seemingly contradictory notion that a seven-man bullpen is too thin.



What it won't address — this week anyway — is how bullpen management has evolved. Obviously, the era of 12-man pitching staff is relatively new; I remember (being a hopelessly old guy) when Tony LaRussa with Oakland opted to carry an 11th pitcher ... I think it was 1989. I thought it ridiculously overstaffed. Now nobody has as few as 11 pitchers. I blame LaRussa.



Anyway, it is my recollection that in 1987 Tom Kelly had a set-up man rotation. Jeff Readon closed, and the three right-handers — Keith Atherton, Juan Berenguer and George Frazier, alphabethcially — rotated.



Checking this recollection on Retrosheet.org: In fact, it wasn't until April 22 — the 15th game of the season — that Kelly used two of those guys in the same game, and another week before they doubled up for the second time. The rotation was Frazier, Atherton, Berenguer. They generally worked multiple innings and then got a couple games off. Frazier went two innings on Opening Day (got the win in extra innings); Atherton worked two innings the second day (set up Reardon for the save); Berenguer pitched three innings the next day. And so it went.



TK did have Joe Klink, a rookie lefty, in his pen to open the season, and Klink served as a LOOGY — Left-handed One-Out GuY — of sorts.



And that was the April bullpen: Reardon, Berenguer, Atherton, Frazier, Klink. Five starting pitchers (Bert Blyleven, Frank Viola, Mark Portugal, Mike Smithson and Les Straker, in that order) and five relievers. Ten man staff.



That's the old school.



The bullpen rotation eventually deteriorated. Berenguer, the most effective of the trio, went into the starting rotation for a brief while (six starts), and by season's end Kelly had lost confidence in Frazier; Frazier was not used in key situations in the playoffs or World Series, and 1987 was his last season.



But even in September, Kelly was frequently picking one reliever a day to get from the starter to Reardon.





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