Cubs’ color commentator Bob Brenly first guessed the move as it happened.
After the Chicago offense finally broke through against Reds’ starter Mike Leake to take a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning, manager Lou Piniella tasked starter Ryan Dempster to bridge all the way to set-up man Carlos Zambrano.
Dempster immediately ran into trouble by allowing a lead-off double to Ramon Hernandez in the bottom of the seventh inning and eventually faced a two-on, two-out situation with Joey Votto coming to the plate. Lefty Sean Marshall was ready in the bullpen and so Piniella headed to the mound to make the obvious pitching change. Or so we thought.
Despite having already thrown 111 pitches on the day, Dempster talked his manager into leaving him in the ballgame. As Piniella was heading back towards the dugout, Brenly told us that he didn’t have a good feeling.
He couldn’t have been more right.
On the very first pitch that Dempster threw to Votto, the Reds’ first baseman hit a towering three-run homerun to give the Reds a 5-3 lead, the eventual final.
This wasn’t the first time that Dempster was stretched too far because of Piniella’s distrust in the bullpen. On April 18, Dempster threw 120 pitches and into the eighth inning with a 2-0 lead because Piniella didn’t have a reliable bridge to go from the starter to closer Carlos Marmol. In that game, Dempster failed to escape the inning, which forced Marmol to attempt an awkward four-out save that he ultimately could not convert.
In Dempster’s next outing against the Brewers, Piniella showed his distrust in the bullpen even more so by asking Dempster to pitch the eighth inning with a five-run lead. Again, Dempster failed to make it through the eighth and again Marmol was brought in for four outs. This time, Marmol was able to preserve the lead that was too large for the situation to be considered a save opportunity, but threw 22 pitches to limit his availability for the rest of the series at Miller Park.
Now with Zambrano pitching the eighth innings, the same issue has simply shifted over to the seventh inning.
Lee needs to step up: With the team struggling, it’s time for de-facto leader Derrek Lee to step up. While Lee is a quieter player than some of the other expected leaders, he should at least be showing a little more awareness during the game. This means that Lee starts to understand the limitations on his quickly diminishing range on defense, doesn’t chop block his own pitcher when the opposition bunts, stops hitting check-swing groundballs with the bases loaded, and starts hitting the ball the other way instead of rolling over 2-0 pitches to ground into inning-ending double plays. Over the past few days, Lee has had trouble with all of those things and he is quickly becoming a mere shell of the player that he once was.
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Written by Eddie Kim