The Seattle Mariners defeated the Tampa Bay Rays last night on the strength Kyle Seager and his two homer, six RBI night. Rays reliever Brad Boxberger was credited with the loss after Seager’s solo homer in the top of the tenth, which gave Fernando Rodney the win. When a guy comes in looking for a save and ends up with a win, you typically can tell exactly what happened: he let the other team come back all the way to tie things up before being bailed out in the top of the tenth. And sure enough, that’s what happened.
After Seager’s eighth inning grand slam(!!!) gave the Mariners a 6-3 lead, Rodney got the call to close things out in the bottom of the ninth. Everyone knows how Rodney “likes” to give up runs during his saves, and the common refrain is that you’d like to at least give him a three-run cushion whenever he enters a game. He had that last night, and it was barely enough.
After allowing singles to David DeJesus and Brandon Guyer, Rodney plunked Joey Butler to load the bases with no outs. An Evan Longoria double scored the first two runs, and after getting Logan Forsythe to pop up Rodney intentionally walked Asdrubal Cabrera. From there, all it took was Robinson Cano throwing wide of first on a grounder to tie things up. It’s almost a shock that Rodney didn’t allow more than three runs.
Having blown the win (for the time being), Rodney was sent back to the bench to watch his teammate win the game for him in epic fashion. They say pitcher wins and losses don’t tell you much, and while that’s absolutely true, it’s also true that a guy gunning for a save and ending up with a win tells you exactly what you need to know about that situation. The win had nothing to do with Fernando Rodney. Or at least, it shouldn’t have.
Lloyd McClendon, for one, sounds okay with this result. Don’t take my word for it – just look at any of his postgame comments and notice how they’re completely devoid of any mention of Rodney’s meltdown. Go back a few days, however, and there are quotes. Oh, are there quotes.
“I don’t think you worry about his ERA much,” McClendon said of the ninth inning reliever who’s since seen his ERA go up from 6.23 to 6.98. “Our closer is what he is. Hopefully, he’s 49 out of 50 with a 6.00 ERA. I don’t care about his ERA. Just close the games out. Sometimes it’s not easy.”
Last night it wasn’t easy for Rodney, to say the least. He didn’t close the game out, either – he got the win, which, apparently, is good enough for Lloyd. Never mind that Rodney’s poor performance put his team on the edge of stunning defeat – what counts is the win, right?
Or is what counts the fact that the M’s are continuing to depend on such a rocky pitcher in such a critical spot as the ninth? “He gets those one-run leads, I think he’s a little bit more focused,” McClendon said. “Three-run lead, he’s a little more relaxed.” Again, this quote is coming from before last night’s game, but not as if he went back on his words following Rodney’s three-run outing. “It gets within one or two, and they tighten down.” Except… he didn’t.
Does Rodney agree with this assessment? No, of course not! The very next line from that Greg Johns piece: “Rodney says he tries to pitch the same no matter the situation.” He does, of course, go on to concede that when he enters a game with a one-run lead he feels “invincible,” which he decidedly is not. Is this the fabled “closer mentality” we’ve heard so much about? Invincible with a small lead, so if the lead is big, well, gotta shorten it?
Fernando Rodney is a nonsense reliever. Always has been, always will be. This year he’s a nonsense reliever with a 5.00 FIP, -0.2 WAR, and the seventh-highest save total in the American League. He can’t keep racking up saves while blowing big leads, of course. Based on everything we know, it can’t be expected that he’ll start pitching better because he’s got so many saves. What’s much, much more likely is that the saves stop happening, as was the case last night.
The Mariners don’t want to make a change at closer because it wouldn’t be an easy change. Carson Smith is young, inexperienced, and incredible, and they’d probably like to keep him in a setup spot for cost-savings purposes if nothing else. Charlie Furbush is needed in a versatile role due to his handedness. Tom Wilhelmsen isn’t closer caliber anymore. Danny Farquhar just earned himself a trip to Tacoma. There’s nobody for the job right now, and so it’s Rodney’s to lose or not lose.
He hasn’t lost it yet, which goes to show just how long his leash is. He’s earned it in part, due to his excellent season a year ago, but we’ve all seen how out of hand this has gotten. The ERA is not inflated because of some early-season slip-ups. The slip-ups haven’t stopped, and for all we know maybe they won’t, ever. Beware the Fernando Rodney Experience. Kyle Seager won’t always be there to make everything better.