Last night, Vin Mazzarro pitched 7 shutout innings for the Kansas City Royals.
Normally, that’s not exactly news. Seven shutout innings is commendable, but it’s 9 innings (a complete game) that makes it newsworthy. And maybe that’s why not a lot of people noticed it.
But it was Vin Mazzarro. On May 16, Vin Mazzarro took the mound for the Royals, pitching in emergency relief against the Cleveland Indians. The Indians shelled him for a record 14 runs in 2.1 innings before the Royals mercifully relieved him. After the game, the Royals sent him to the minor leagues. It probably wouldn’t have surprised many people if he’d just faded away down there, never to be heard from again.
His second chance came sooner than most people would have expected. The Royals have three injured starting pitchers right now. Mazzarro made three straight quality starts in the minors after Cleveland carpet-bombed him, so when Sean O’Sullivan went down with an injury, Mazzarro earned the opportunity to replace him. The Royals have tons of pitching prospects in the minors, but none of them are really showing signs of being ready yet. So Mazzarro it was.
Granted, Mazzarro’s 7 shutout innings came against a struggling team, the Los Angeles California Angels of Anaheim. Or is it the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim California? I can never keep it straight. But I digress. Mazzarro walked five batters and gave up five hits, which isn’t something you normally get away with doing and still pitch shutout ball. But the Royals turned five double plays. Defense is one of the Royals’ few strengths, and part of a pitcher’s job is to play to his team’s strengths.
Before last night, Mazzarro’s hold on his major league job was tenuous, with those three injured pitchers due back at any time. But only one of them is demonstrably better than he is, and statistical analysis suggests that Bruce Chen’s biggest advantage over Mazzarro has been luck.
Whatever his short-term future is, last night was nice to see. I don’t think anyone likes watching a young pitcher get lit up for 14 runs in 2.1 innings, even the opposing team. Few people expect Mazzarro to be a future superstar, but I think everyone knows he wasn’t as bad as that, either.
Of course, why Mazzarro was left to die on the mound on a day when he clearly didn’t have it is another discussion. Mazzarro was pitching in emergency relief because the starting pitcher sustained an injury early in the game. There are two or three things a manager can do in that situation.
- Ask every available relief pitcher to try to pitch two or three innings
- Ask one available pitcher to try to give you at least five innings to minimize the bullpen’s workload
- As a last resort, ask the utility infielder on the bench to pitch a couple of innings in hopes of keeping at least one relief pitcher fresh for tomorrow’s game
The Royals have one of the most overworked bullpens in the majors, due to a lack of quality starters. Thanks to a rainout the day before, Mazzarro had missed a start and had a fresh arm. Since he’s normally a starter, he was an obvious candidate to ask to pitch five innings, and probably the only available reliever capable of doing that.
Winning the game quickly ceased being an option, so the goal became just to get through 9 innings without having to empty the bullpen. When Mazzarro clearly didn’t have it, they eventually accepted the necessity of emptying the bullpen.
Putting a non-pitcher in has advantages and disadvantages. There’s no real harm done if your utility infielder gives up 14 runs, because he’s not supposed to pitch anyway. But pitching puts a strain on your arm, and non-pitchers don’t train for that, and can hurt themselves pitching. Presumably that’s why the Royals didn’t put Chris Getz on the mound that night.
Outings like Mazzarro’s May 16 can ruin careers. So, regardless of the circumstances, it was good to see him come back and throw a few shutout innings so soon.