LOS ANGELES – If Rick Renteria won’t be judged by wins and losses now, his bosses and his players will look at the gray areas.
The Cubs manager will be judged on how he uses players and runs a pitching staff, why he makes in-game decisions and the way he handles the media and behind-the-scenes stuff. It’s unifying the coaching staff, selling the organization’s public message and making sure the clubhouse doesn’t tune him out.
So it was interesting to hear Renteria answer questions during Sunday’s pregame media session at Dodger Stadium, explaining his thought process from the night before, a 5-2 loss that ended with a Hanley Ramirez walk-off shot in the 12th inning.
Trailing 2-1, Renteria pulled lefty starter Tsuyoshi Wada with two outs and a runner on third base in the sixth inning. Renteria brought in swingman Carlos Villanueva to face Dodgers backup catcher Drew Butera, the No. 8 hitter.
“We had pushed already – Wada was at (103) pitches,” Renteria said. “I think they might have pinch-hit. I don’t know. I saw some movement over there. But I just thought that was the best thing to do. Wada had already ground out the innings and the pitch count to a pretty high level. (Butera) is a pretty good hitter against left-handed pitching.
“You bring in Villa, it’s a good matchup. He gets one pitch, he gets an out. It works out.”
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A.J. Ellis, the primary catcher for the Dodgers, has been sidelined with a sore right knee. Butera is a career .183 hitter, a little better against lefties (.188) than right-handers (.180). Butera had no history against Villanueva, who got him to pop up a 90 mph fastball into foul territory.
What about bringing in someone other than Villanueva, a rubber arm capable of throwing multiple innings? Maybe a power arm like Brian Schlitter for a short burst?
“I didn’t have to do that,” Renteria said. “The matchup, for me, with Villa, was good. In talking it over with (pitching coach Chris Bosio) and the guys, it was a good matchup. The other part of it was we still had (Chris) Rusin to give us extended innings if we needed it on the back end. Fortunately for us, it worked out.”
The Cubs wound up playing three extra-innings games within five days. Backup catcher John Baker became the team’s first true position player to earn a win since 1885 in last week’s 16-inning victory over the Colorado Rockies. The longest game in franchise history lasted six hours and 27 minutes.
It didn’t take that long on Saturday night, and the Cubs weren’t burned by the Villanueva decision. Ryan Sweeney pinch-hit for Villanueva in the top of the seventh inning.
“We went through that whole scenario,” Renteria said. “We had, quite frankly, most of the bullpen available, and length if we needed to, on the back end, with Rusin.
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“It kind of gave me the luxury of just picking that matchup. And then we were able to bring in ‘Schlit’ the next inning. I just think I’ve been using some of these guys one-plus (innings). If I can limit even an out, you’re talking about six, seven, eight pitches.”
Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel expressed their frustrations with pitch counts before getting traded to the Oakland A’s on the Fourth of July. GM Jed Hoyer also acknowledged the Cubs have put restrictions on pitchers. That just came up with the Neil Ramirez confusion, trying to option the hard-throwing reliever to Triple-A Iowa and then putting him on the disabled list as a protective measure.
While discussing Wada during Saturday’s postgame press conference, Renteria made sure to include this throwaway line: “I know people are concerned about pitch counts, but he worked pretty good.”
The Cubs still have 52 games left in another rebuilding season, so Renteria will have to put out some more fires.
The clubhouse also might have needed new “Villa’s Top Ten” T-shirts if the Cubs rallied and Villanueva got the win after throwing only one pitch. Teammates would never hear the end of it.
“That would have been awesome,” Renteria said.