Will Terry Francona’s Bullpen Usage Pay Off In The Long Run?

By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Game 1 of the American League Division Series between the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians featured plenty of uniquely interesting moments and decisions. The move that turned out to be the biggest decision of the game came from the dugout, as Indians manager Terry Francona surprisingly decided to bring in lefty reliever Andrew Miller during the top of the fifth inning to replace starter Trevor Bauer.

With the Indians up 4-3 after Sandy Leon hit a solo home run off Bauer, Miller entered the game with two outs in the fifth to face lefty Brock Holt, who hit a double to represent the tying run. After walking Mookie Betts, Miller struck out David Ortiz to end the inning and preserve the lead.

The Indians scored the eventual game-winning run to extend their lead to 5-3 in the next half-inning. Miller would go on to pitch 1.2 more innings without allowing a run, totaling 40 pitches on the night. Right-hander Bryan Shaw replaced Miller with two outs in the top of the seventh inning to face Dustin Pedroia.

Cody Allen of the Cleveland Indians celebrates with Roberto Perez after defeating the Boston Red Sox 5-4 in Game 1 of the American League Divison Series. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Cody Allen of the Cleveland Indians celebrates with Roberto Perez after defeating the Boston Red Sox 5-4 in Game 1 of the American League Divison Series. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Francona’s bold bullpen strategy continued in the top of the eighth inning when he brought in closer Cody Allen, who ended up throwing 1.2 scoreless innings for his first save of the postseason – but Allen also threw 40 pitches on the night, putting his availability for Friday afternoon’s Game 2 in doubt.

“Nobody ever said you have to be conventional to win,” Francona said after the game.

Making tough decisions and thinking unconventionally in the playoffs is often an important attribute for managers, and Francona’s moves certainly paid off in Game 1 as the Indians escaped Progressive Field with the win. But the high pitch counts for Miller and Allen have put the two relievers in an early hole workload-wise and the team could be forced to depend on starter Corey Kluber and others in the bullpen to carry the pitching staff on Friday.

Allen on Thursday threw the most pitches since he threw 37 on Aug. 29 then did not pitch again for four days. Miller threw the most since he totaled 36 pitches on May 6, then threw 25 four days later. Being ready for a second appearance in less than 24 hours could be a tall order for Miller or Allen, but Francona did not rule it out, nor did he seem terribly concerned about the situation.

“We’ll take inventory of what we’ve got,” Francona said after the game. “You’re certainly not going to see the same exact way [on Friday]. But we wanted to win the game [Thursday night] and we did. [Friday] might have to be a little bit different design.”

Andrew Miller of the Cleveland Indians pitches in the fifth inning against the Boston Red Sox during Game 1 of the American League Divison Series. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Andrew Miller of the Cleveland Indians pitches in the fifth inning against the Boston Red Sox during Game 1 of the American League Divison Series. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Francona’s bullpen moves were certainly daring and could put his bullpen at risk of being over-taxed as the postseason goes along, but a deep, strong outing by Kluber on Friday could give the moves an immediate payoff. Miller is no stranger to pitching multiple innings in consecutive outings, but with Game 2 having an early-afternoon start it’s possible that the Indians will need to look elsewhere if they have to turn to the bullpen in Game 2. The moves will inevitably be second-guessed if the bullpen falters later in the series and ends up hurting the team.

“I think at this point, we’re all ready to go every day,” Miller said after the game. “We’ll find a way.”

Pitch counts certainly cannot be as much of a concern in an all-hands-on-deck situation like the playoffs as it is in the regular season. Francona appears confident that Miller and Allen will be able to quickly overcome their big early pitch counts. But in making a do-or-die kind of move in a series-opening game, Francona will have to hope the aggressive early strategy pays off by the end of the season.

Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.

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