Timing Is Everything

Despite my recent wishes for Charlie Haeger or Eric Stults to replace Jason Schmidt in the rotation, I’m more than happy with Scott Elbert getting the start. (Wait, let’s not gloss over the obvious. No more Jason Schmidt! Hooray!!) As I said yesterday, I believe Elbert’s future is as a starter, so it’s great to see that the team might possibly agree.

87toppsscottelbert.jpgBut when you’ve got a young pitcher about to make his first major league start, wouldn’t you think you’d want to put him in the best possible position to succeed? Schmidt’s start was on Monday, but rather than having Elbert take it, Hiroki Kuroda is sliding back a day for it (ostensibly to “get him another day of rest”, but it’s clearly because the game against the Giants is far more important than the game against the Braves) – and that’s fine.

No, what gets me is that after Elbert pitched 0.1 of an inning on Thursday, getting the win against Atlanta, he was announced as the Sunday starter before Friday’s game. Granted, throwing 6 pitches in the Thursday game is barely even a side session, so the fact that a Sunday start would technically put him on “two days rest” isn’t a big deal. What is a big deal is the fact that even though Elbert was the Sunday starter going into Friday’s game, Joe Torre still brought him out of the bullpen into a tie game in the 12th. After a strikeout of Adam LaRoche, Yuni Escobar singles, scoring one of the two men Ramon Troncoso left, and then Ryan Church hit a three-run homer, effectively ending the game.

I understand why Torre wanted to have Elbert in there at this point – LaRoche is a lefty and Escobar has a reverse split, hitting worse against lefties than against righties – but at some point, don’t you have to worry about what you’re doing to your Sunday starter? Elbert’s now pitched in two of the three days previous to his first big league start, and while 19 pitches combined isn’t a huge amount, it’s also not the rest that most starting pitchers recieve. Besides, if you really wanted a lefty in that situation, then maybe you shouldn’t have wasted Hong-Chih Kuo on a one-out injury-replacement appearance after Chad Billingsley left the game.

It’s hard enough to be a starting pitcher in the big leagues, and I can’t even imagine how much harder it is to be doing it for the first time. We’ll have to see how much the added difficulty of the lack of rest has on Elbert – and if he ends up with a 2.2 inning outing that leads to a bullpen game, in addition to the uncertainty surrounding Billingsley, this could lead to huge problems headed into the biggest series of the year in San Francisco.

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