Less than 48 hours ago, I advocated exercising a little bit of patience/restraint with Frank Francisco -- this in spite of his disastrous 0.2-inning effort in Thursday afternoon's series finale -- before rounding up a torch- and pitchfork-armed mob to throw him under the bus. Today, an embattled Francisco blew his second ninth-inning lead in less than 72 hours, yielded three earned runs on three hits and a walk in just one-third of an inning, and found himself yanked by manager Ron Washington after just 15 pitches. Let the rioting begin. I'm kidding. Or am I?
Patience is, at the very least, quickly falling by the wayside, and perhaps not completely without just cause. Part of the problem is a modern -- and arguably flawed -- convention of baseball itself to which many managers abide: the notion that you simply must turn to your closer in any save situation, irrespective of whether your setup man just logged a brilliant inning with an economical pitch count and is still good to go for a second inning of work. Unfortunately, the more pitchers that you employ in a particular game, the greater the likelihood that one of them will lack his best stuff/command and struggle to record outs, and the greater the likelihood that disaster will ensue.
This all stems from the typical manager's predilection towards neatly defined relief roles, rather than a certain organized fluidity in the bullpen where it's not mandatory that your "closer" pitch in every single save situation. Alas, Neftali Feliz -- who appears to have overcome his Opening Day shakiness, throwing a perfect eighth inning on just 10 pitches -- was pulled in favor of Francisco, all hell broke loose, and now here we are, watching a team that should be 4-1 rather than 2-3 and is now evidently mired in a closer's controversy. He may not be hurting in the conventional sense, but below-average velocity and dubious fastball command is a veritable recipe for disaster.
So, what happens now? I usually respond to these self-created queries with "nothing," but it may be that Feliz is promoted into the closer's role within the month (if not within the week), with Francisco being relegated to a lesser role ala Francisco Cordero after his horrendous early-'06 run, or placed on the disabled list with some vague injury; should the latter scenario come to pass, the direct beneficiary could end up being Triple-A Oklahoma City flamethrower Omar Beltre, with Pedro Strop -- a 40-man roster denizen -- and Willie Eyre also being possibilities and other RedHawks such as Clay Rapada and Geoff Geary lingering on the periphery.
One would ordinarily classify all of this talk about yanking the chain on your closer after two poor outings as reactionary rubbish of the highest order, and under normal circumstances they might be right; however, this team is operating/performing under the pressure of elevated expectations, and that may be doubly true for Ron Washington, whose job was safe through at least Opening Day but is now subject to heightened scrutiny, and who undoubtedly recognizes that his managerial future in baseball could be riding on the Rangers' success (or lack thereof) in 2010. From a personal, career-minded standpoint, he may no longer be in a position to play the wait-and-see game.