CLEVELAND — One of the recurring themes of the postseason and World Series has been managers willing to use their best relievers for multiple innings.
Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona had done so with left-hander Andrew Miller and closer Cody Allen. Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon has done the same with closer Aroldis Chapman.
The strategy has helped both teams reach the World Series, with Game 6 scheduled for Tuesday night at Progressive Field with the Indians holding a 3-2 lead and the opportunity to clinch their first title since 1948. The Cubs haven’t won a Fall Classic since 1908.
Mariano Rivera (652) and Trevor Hoffman (601), the only two pitchers in major league history with 600 career saves, have been watching the postseason with interest. Both reached the major leagues after closers became almost exclusively one-inning pitchers.
“We’ve been talking about this and it’s amazing because you’re talking about the playoffs, especially now in the World Series where there’s no tomorrow,” Rivera said. “So those guys are aware of that. They need to do whatever they need to do to get it done. Both managers have done tremendous jobs.”
Rivera has been particularly impressed with Miller, who has pitched 17 innings over nine games while allowing only one run.
“[Francona] has used Miller in situations where he’s been shining,” Rivera said. “It’s great to see that, but again, there’s no tomorrow. So, whatever he has to do, he has to do it now.”
Hoffman said that the relievers deserve credit for stepping outside their comfort zone.
“I think the thing that stands out to me is the unselfishness on the players’ part to embrace the opportunity and know you’re in a leverage situation that will impact the game maybe sooner than you’re used to,” Hoffman said.
“Fortunately there are guys other than just Miller on [The Indians’] staff. The job [Bryan] Shaw has done this year and Allen, it’s pretty amazing as a group what they’ve been able to accomplish.”
However, both Rivera and Hoffman were quick to point out that managers would not be able to employ the same strategy during the regular season, with its 162-game schedule crammed into 184 days.
“You’d find people probably getting hurt in the middle of May,” Hoffman said. “So, it’s something that the urgency of the postseason can provide. It makes sense to me. But I don’t think you’re going to see a full swing to the regular season.”
While it is a good sign that right-hander Danny Salazar has returned to pitch in the World Series, the Indians privately have some trepidation about him going forward.
Salazar’s last regular-season start was Sept. 9, when he left after four innings against the Minnesota Twins with a strained forearm. He did not pitch again in a major league game until last Wednesday, when he threw one scoreless inning against the Cubs in Game 2.
Strained forearms are often a precursor to torn elbow ligaments and Tommy John reconstructive surgery. Furthermore, after going 10-3 with a 2.75 ERA in 17 first-half starts this year, Salazar went 1-3 with a 7.44 ERA in eight starts following the All-Star break.
However, what troubles the Indians the most is Salazar’s refusal to pitch through even the most minor of aches in his pitching arm.
“He’s a great talent, no one questions that,” an Indians person said. “You just don’t know when he’s going to ask out of a game. We need to be able to depend on him. He needs to learn how to work through some pain or stiffness. We’re not asking to pitch injured, just through the normal aches and pains every pitcher feels over the course of a season.”
On the other side of the pain threshold is Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber, who has surprisingly returned to play in the World Series after tearing two knee ligaments during the first week of the season.
The Cubs had the chance to trade Schwarber to the New York Yankees for Miller in July but declined. The Yankees instead dealt him to the Indians for a package of four prospects.
However, the Cubs have no regret about not pulling the trigger on that trade, even though Miller is under contract for two more years.
“He’s a special bat and a special kid, too,” a Cubs’ person said. “We’ve known that since the day we drafted him and the way he worked to come back from the surgery just confirmed it. You never say never about trading any player but it’s almost impossible to envision a scenario in which we would trade him.”
Indians bench coach Brad Mills and Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez are expected to interview for the vacant Colorado Rockies manager’s job as soon as the World Series end.
Both received endorsements from their current bosses.
“I’ve probably learned more about the game from him that he’s learned about the game from me,” Indians manager Francona said of Mills, who managed the Houston Astros for three seasons from 2010-12.
Martinez also served as Maddon’s bench coach with the Tampa Bay Rays.
“When the guy does the bench coaching properly, I absolutely believe it sets him up to be a manager,” Maddon said. “He should be there to let the manager intellectualize the day.”