1. Carlos Rodon split the plate with the first fastball he threw to Delino DeShields, and after getting taken into the gap for a leadoff double, he looked lost missing badly with fastballs and walking Shin-Soo Choo.
And then just like Chris Sale the night before, Rodon snapped into place. Or it's better said, his slider took control of the game. The only run he allowed all night came that same inning, when he completely overwhelmed Prince Fielder, only for that brilliant hitter to poke an off balance seeing-eye single through on him. No one else fared better. Rodon's slider filleted everyone, overwhelming a lefty-centered lineup, covering up his walks, putting away hitters who fell behind, enticing swings from hitters who were ahead and had to know the slider was coming. He recorded 10 of his first 15 outs via strikeout, and braved six outstanding innings with two pitches, and really only one pitch worth worrying about.
2. While I'm putting my main focus on Rodon, because duh, the Sox lost 2-1 in the 11th, sealing a losing road trip behind another atrocious offensive effort against a mediocre starter. 6-41 with no extra-base hits is a very consistent way to lose and spoil even virtuoso pitching efforts and splendid bullpen luck. Since we're going to talk about bullpen management, it's only right that we acknowledge that Melky Cabrera and Alexei Ramirez are choking the life out of this team at the plate.
3. The Sox lost the game with Dan Jennings on the mound in the 11th, facing off against Texas' slate of lefties, and dying again despite pitching fine when the two grounders he yielded found holes. Jennings couldn't find a break these days if it was in his own leg. There's a competent LOOGY with a fantastic groundball rate and a good sweeping slider, but it's going to be hard to stick with this neverending pile of bad results. A 7.83 ERA is attention-grabbing.
4. Robin's bullpen management was bizarre, but not for anything that didn't work. Dan Jennings--snakebitten as he may seem--working with the platoon advantage in the 11th is a fine place to be, it's more that he got there after still recently recalled Daniel Webb bounced his way through 2.2 scoreless innings in the eighth, ninth and tenth. Webb, flashy but woefully inconsistent throughout 2014, mediocre in Triple-A but interesting-looking in the two games he got into before this, all of a sudden handed the keys for a prolonged stretch through some very high-leverage innings, even after getting himself in severe trouble multiple times. Thanks to two double plays with the bases littered with Rangers, Webb escaped, but this all came with David Robertson, who hasn't worked since Friday and isn't one of the most heavily used pen guys in the league, on the bench.
Post-game, Robin offered this explanation.
It seems like some of the strangeness was inspired by Zach Putnam being unavailable with a finger issue, but this is essentially 'saving the closer for a save situation that never comes' logic. The game is just as much on the line--nay, moreso--when it's tied in the ninth than when there's a lead to protect. What's odd is that Ventura has used Robertson in tie games in the ninth earlier this season. Putnam's absence seems to have spurred a reversion to rigid, conservative bullpen use.
5. Robin is a worn-out target, and any criticism of him prompts a great deal of reactionary defensiveness, especially in instances like Thursday night, where his mistakes are ancillary to what is actively poisoning the team (offense). Second-guessing in-game management is easy, and narrow targeting--it's like using the one hour in the yard to assess whether someone's a model prisoner--but what's the alternative? Ignore obvious mistakes? Assume this is indicative of no other problems? Assume extreme competence for the leadership of an under-performing team?
Yes, there's always a possibility that we don't have all the information, or that Robin could have information that flips the perspective. The solution to dealing with this blind spot is not silence, but challenging Ventura to explain and justify his actions, and doing it politely is typically an ineffective method of drawing out a real explanation from someone lacking a real reason to explain themselves at all. If fans want to just support everything about their team, and everything it does, that's fine and certainly their prerogative. But assuming there's some higher morality or wisdom in being unquestioning is farcical, and antithetical to what this site is trying to accomplish. We are trying to test ideas and seek to know more, not revel and find comfort in knowing less.
6. Soooo...that said...
Adam Eaton stole his second base in as many games Thursday night, boosting his mighty season total to three. I don't want to put this on Vince Coleman, because the Sox certainly aren't showing that they should be more aggressive right now (18 out of 32 as a team). But all the enthusiasm for a more aggressive approach can be put into the category of Spring Training Talk, since only two AL teams have ran less than the Sox.
7. Gordon Beckham started again Thursday at third, went 1-4 and knocked in the Sox only run with a sacrifice fly. Even more tellingly, Robin is giving quotes about how leaving and coming back has given Gordon a different perspective. I'm calling this one. It's over, Conor.
Though if the Sox are out of the race before the waiver trade deadline, they should ship Gordon back out again so he's refreshed for 2016. I'm pretty sure I'm kidding.
8. If I'm working Play Index correctly, The Sox are the fourth team this season to reach on error three or more times and score one run or less. The last team to do it was Friday night's opponent, the Detroit Tigers, who were playing the A's, and yes, Marcus Semien had one of the errors.
9. Oh boy the Tigers are in a freefall. Scherzer left, Verlander has been hurt, Fister was traded for a collection of paper mache, Anibal Sanchez is struggling, Alfredo Simon does not duck bats as well as he ducks prosecution for rape and murder, and years of emptying the farm-system for very justified runs at a World Series have finally come home to roost. Their bullpen is better these days, though, and they're actually over .500 still, so why am I talking smack?
10. Jose Quintana starts Friday night. He has a career 113 ERA+ and a 26-30 career record, and yet he chose to stay in Chicago long-term. Stuff-wise, health-wise, and in terms of his peripheral statistics, he continues to be a stud who developed a solid-average curveball on the fly to match with plus command and excellent pitchability. A run of dominant starts to get his ERA back to his normal standards is as inevitable as his recording a no decision.