Ah, the classic philosophical question in Major League Baseball: If a manager calls for a relief pitcher and no one is warming up in the bullpen, do the falling trees in the forest make a sound?
Confused? So were the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday night after manager Ron Roenicke went to his pen without realizing that nobody from the dugout had asked anybody in the pen to get ready first. After an extra-long wait for umpires to sort out what was going on, the Brewers were forced to bring in left-hander Will Smith without allowing him to loosen up, beyond the eight courtesy pitches on the game mound.
The Atlanta Braves took advantage, scoring three runs in the seventh inning, coming from behind to take the lead before winning 5-4 at Turner Field. This is what happens, apparently, when two coaches go on leave for graduation ceremonies and a team has to use a temp.
The Associated Press quoted Roenicke:
"I feel bad about everything," said Roenicke, who took the blame for the botched communications in the Milwaukee dugout and bullpen. "It's going to be hard on me."
Ryan Doumit's pinch-hit single brought home the tying and go-ahead run after the Brewers summoned Smith, who was just sitting around in the bullpen with his jacket on.
Roenicke thinks he feels bad now — what if the Brewers need this game at the end of the year?
Roenicke had changed pitchers once already in the inning when he went to remove reliever Brandon Kintzler. Roenicke informed umpires he wanted to make a double switch involving Smith. Roenicke realized he was in a bind when the Brewers pen responded with a collective shrug and sent another left-hander, Zach Duke, to the field instead. Wrong guy — even though it didn't matter in a way, as no one was warming up.
Teams aren't allowed to un-do a lineup change, so Smith was put into action. One more thing: Umpires were so confused, they needed to use replay to double check that Smith wasn't allowed more than his eight warmup pitches. If he had exceeded it, he probably would have been thrown out without having pitches. So, in fairness to Roenicke, they avoided more chaos there.
Except: Roenicke might as well have used actor Will Smith to pitch against Doumit, whose pinch-hit single put the Braves ahead to stay.
The reason no one called the pen stems from a common occurrence in May: School graduation. Brewers pitching coach Rick Kranitz and bullpen coach Lee Tunnell had been excused from the game in order to attend ceremonies for their respecitve families, presumably their children. Milwaukee had summoned its minor league pitching coordinator, Rick Tomlin, to fill in for Kravitz. He apparently didn't know the drill. Roenicke rightly took responsibility.
"Miscommunication," Roenicke said. "There's a certain way we do things, and when Kranitz isn't here, I didn't go back and tell Rick Tomlin who to get up and bring in. It's my fault."
It's even more negligence that Roenicke didn't say to someone in the dugout, "Hey, call down to the pen to see if so-and-so is warmed yet." The visitor's bullpen at Turner Field is not easily seen from the dugout, so Roenicke couldn't just casually look out there for signs that Smith was warming up and/or ready. It makes the lack of a phone call even more egregious. Bench coach Jerry Narron (he's a former catcher, too) probably should have made himself accountable for communicating with the pen — especially with Roenicke's staff depleted.
Coaches and managers, routinely if not universally around the league, have been given days off in order to attend family events like graduation. It hasn't always been this way in MLB, but it's been common for years. It does seem unusual that two coaches would miss a game at the same time, but it's probably happened before. It's also not the first time a manager has called to the pen and nobody was there.
But a combination of those factors? This might be a first. After what happened, Kranitz and Tunnell have all of the leverage in the world to ask for raises in the offseason. The Brewers can't even function properly without them.
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