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Alex Cora's debut weekend went way better than fellow rookie managers

Alex Reimer
April 02, 2018 - 2:26 pm

Alex Cora’s most questionable decision in his first weekend as Red Sox skipper can be easily defended. The same can’t be said about his fellow managerial newcomers' blunders.

Cora’s decision to bypass lefty Bobby Poyner in the eighth inning on Opening Day and keep closer Craig Kimbrel sitting in the bullpen was curious. After all, the bases were loaded with two left-handed hitters coming up and a three-run lead. Poyner, who was warming at the time, is the only left-handed option in the Red Sox bullpen. Instead of calling for Poyner to face Brad Miller and Denard Span, Cora summoned Carson Smith, who walked Miller and surrendered a three-run triple to Span. The Rays plated four runs, giving them a 5-4 advantage.

After the game, Cora said he didn’t want Poyner’s big league debut to come with the bases loaded. His excuse for not using Kimbrel in the game’s most crucial spot was the closer’s lack of work in Spring Training. Kimbrel missed the bulk of Grapefruit League play due to his sick infant daughter, who’s undergone two surgeries for a heart defect since she was born in November. 

On Friday, Cora said he’s willing to use Kimbrel outside of the ninth inning, but needs to have a conversation with him about the matter. For the Red Sox’ sake, hopefully that happens sooner rather than later. It’s antiquated to only use the best reliever on the team, and frankly, one of the best in baseball, in the ninth inning. 

But that’s a future concern. Cora managed his bullpen seamlessly for the rest of the series, and the Red Sox came away with three straight one-run wins. 

The same can’t be said for rookie Yankees manager Aaron Boone. The 2003 ALCS hero is getting slammed in New York for a couple of dubious decisions against the Jays, including intentionally walking Josh Donaldson in the eighth inning Sunday to face red-hot Justin Smoak. Smoak, who homered in the previous frame, smashed a game-leading grand slam off Dave Robertson. The Yankees’ bullpen struggled mightily in Toronto, with Dellin Betances imploding in Saturday’s defeat. He allowed a game-tying home run to Yangervis Solarte and stood idly on the mound while Kevin Pillar swiped three bases against him, including home plate.

It looks like Boone has his work cut out for him.

But his troubles are nothing compared to ex-Red Sox outfielder Gabe Kapler, who became a laughingstock over the weekend. Most infamously, he called for reliever Hoby Milner Saturday before he had even warmed up. That bizarre miscue prompted home plate Jerry Layne to throw some shade at Kapler after the game. 

“Whoever’s at fault on the Phillies’ side should have to answer to Major League Baseball,” Layne said, per ESPN.

Like many new-age baseball minds, Kapler appears to subscribe to the theory that starting pitchers should often exit the game before the third time through the batting order, where hitters statistically have more success against the same hurler. That would explain why he yanked Aaron Nola on Opening Day after 5 1/3 scoreless innings. The problem is, the Phillies’ bullpen went on to blow the game. Nola also had only thrown 68 pitches and was working with a five-run lead. Not every game can be managed like a postseason contest. Sometimes in the regular season, the long view must be taken. Or else, you wind up using eight pitchers, which the Phillies did in their win Friday night. Philadelphia’s bullpen situation was so dire on Saturday, Kapler was forced to insert outfielder Pedro Floriman into the game for mop-up duty. 

It’s likely these are growing pains for Kapler. But he seems to have a ways to go before even reaching competent bullpen management. 

Cora’s first weekend wasn’t perfect. But he appeared in control of the job, unlike his rookie dugout brethren.