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La Russa works weather and rules to advantage

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa may have executed a clever maneuver with the weather his accomplice Friday evening. He both saved his starting pitcher and put his opponent in the position of wasting his – without the latter having thrown an official pitch.

Though severe storms were clearly heading toward St. Louis’ Busch Stadium, La Russa did not exercise his right as the home team manager to delay the start of the first game of his club’s series-opening contest against the defending National League Central Division champions from Cincinnati.

Under official MLB Rule 3.10 (a), “The manager of the home team shall be the sole judge as to whether a game shall be started because of unsuitable weather conditions or the unfit condition of the playing field…”

Instead of letting his regularly scheduled starting pitcher Kyle McClellan prepare for the start, La Russa substituted reliever Miguel Batista. By not delaying the game, La Russa did not make an easy decision for his counterpart Dusty Baker. The Reds skipper had access to the same weather reports, of course, but elected to remain with Edinson Volquez.

Only when the lineup cards are exchanged, which is dictated by Rule 4.01 to occur five minutes prior to the scheduled starting time, do the weather-related game decisions move to the umpires.

Typically starting pitchers begin their warmup around 30 minutes prior to game time. They run, stretch and long-toss before taking the bullpen mound to throw for 15-20 minutes. Home pitchers might finish five minutes before game time while the road pitcher may throw until just before the game begins.

Once 7:15 arrived, the umpires started the game on time. Batista threw only six official pitches and just three minutes elapsed before the rains began and the game was stopped. Volquez was ready and waiting to pitch the home first, but never had the opportunity to do so prior to the delay.

In a game delay situation, the hurlers need to remain warm and in routine by continuing to throw roughly as if they were pitching each inning. Eventually, as the delay continues, the pitcher uses up his allocation of pitches and is no longer able to safely return.

After Friday’s two hour, 10 minute wait, neither Batista nor Volquez would continue.

The difference was that La Russa could prepare McClellan to take the mound after the delay while Baker had to move to his long man, left-hander Matt Maloney, to “re-start” the game. Officially, both McClellan and Maloney appeared in relief of the announced starters.

Further, the Cardinals were coming off a complete game by Kyle Lohse on Thursday so their rested pen could afford the loss of Batista for the evening.

At this point, it is unclear how many days will pass before Volquez could start again, but perhaps it could be as soon as Sunday night’s nationally-televised game three. Nor is Friday’s outcome decided, but in this instant at least, La Russa appeared to outmaneuver his long-time rival.

Footnote: The game was completed with no further delays as the Cardinals went on to claim the 4-2 victory. While each club ended up using five pitchers, McClellan went six innings and picked up the win while Volquez pitched none. Maloney earned the loss, yielding eight hits and three earned runs in just two innings.

The following comes from the AP post-game article.

“I’m going to give the Cardinals two thumbs up for what they did,” the Reds’ Brandon Phillips said. “They changed their pitcher on us at the last minute, that was a very smart thing to do.”The next thing you know they brought in their starter who was going to start the game, and he was fresh.”

Reds manager Dusty Baker thought the forecast was favorable to play much longer. He said Volquez perhaps could start Sunday night in the series finale.

“The information we received was probably not the same information they received,” Baker said. “We probably shouldn’t have started in the first place. We thought there was going to be a window of opportunity.”

Apparently, Baker and his support personnel need to learn how to better use the television, internet and mobile technology for timely information gathering. Especially in this day and age, the lack of a current weather report should never have been the issue.

As explained both above and below in the comments, the umpires had no control over the events that led to Volquez warming up but not pitching.

It will be interesting to see if Baker brings Volquez back on Sunday night. Even if so, we may never know whether it would be to save face or because the more experienced Volquez (2-0, 6.75 ERA) is a superior alternative to the scheduled starter Sam LeCure (0-1, 4.15).

Stay tuned…

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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