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More on McLeary

It may be piling on to keep talking about Jim Tracy's horrible decision to bring in Marty McLeary to blow the game for us the other night, but the Stats Geek is doing it, so I'm going to, also. (The Stats Geek's article is a good one, by the way.)

Before the age of hyper-specialization, which baseball embraced not long after Tony La Russa met Dennis Eckersley (curse that unholy union!), the team's best reliever was called a "fireman." Yes, boys and girls, this reliever could come in to put out fires whether the conflagration occurred in the seventh, eighth or ninth innings, and he often would pitch more than one inning.

It's funny. Just this weekend - and probably because of this same Tracy/McLeary screwup - I was thinking about how the Three Rivers Stadium scoreboard used to display graphics about the league's top "firemen" (meaning closers) when I went to games as a very young kid in the late '80s. That word seems almost silly now, at least as it might apply to this team.

The Post-Gazette said this offseason that Tracy would only use Torres in save situations. I defended Tracy, pointing out that he had used Eric Gagne in a relatively flexible way as manager of the Dodgers. Well, it turns out the Post-Gazette was right, and I was wrong. Based on his current pace, Torres is projected to pitch just 67 innings this year, compared to 90-plus innings in each of the last three years. Tracy has never brought him in before the ninth inning (and I hunted through Torres' game logs to find that out myself before noticing it was already in the Stats Geek's article. D'oh).

Part of the reason Torres' innings pitched figures are off may have to do with his struggles at the beginning of the year - maybe Tracy would have used him more if he'd pitched well out of the gate. So maybe Tracy deserves a little slack.

Most of the difference, though, between what Torres has been and what he should be has to do with the fact that Tracy has plugged Torres into a role for which he's ill-suited. He's perfectly capable as a ninth-inning pitcher, and he's probably actually best as a one-inning pitcher, which is how Tracy's using him. (Torres was decent in multiple-inning stretches in 2006 but bad in 2005, and he has a history of struggling after he throws 15 pitches - although it's hard to tell how much of that is because he often only throws more than 15 pitches in innings he's laboring to get out of.) But Tracy should be putting him into more games.

Torres is only on pace for 70 games this year. If he really thrives on a tired arm the way the Pirates have said he does, then it would benefit the Pirates in both the short and long terms to get Torres into a few more games. (Last year's 94 games may or may not have been excessive, but either way, 70 probably still isn't enough.) And, at this point, the best way to get Torres into more games is to stop using him so rigidly. If you have to wait until the 9th inning to use him, you're letting the game control you, instead of the other way around. Occasionally bringing in Torres in key situations in the seventh or eighth innings would avoid McLeary situations and help Torres take on the workload he's capable of.

Unfortunately, in his chat yesterday, Dejan Kovacevic reminded us what the problem is:

AZpirate: Why did Tracy stick with Grabow so long on Saturday?

Dejan Kovacevic: The source of that decision, as well as the one to not summon Capps or Torres, is undoubtedly that Tracy has a very firm mind-set about how all things related to the team should look, from the lineup to the way the bullpen is used. And he is extremely reluctant to deviate from that. His seventh-inning guys pitch in the seventh. His eighth-inning guys pitch in the eighth.

Hey, I've got an idea. Why don't we just fire Tracy and replace him with a Commodore 64?