Kovacevic: Half the bullpen’s out and no moves? Why? ☕


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Monday night in Philadelphia. - AP

PHILADELPHIA -- Fire everyone.

Then rehire them. Then fire them again, just to make double-damned sure they're gone.

For 2 1/2 hours Monday afternoon, Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle sat together in the visiting manager's office at Citizens Bank Park. (Yes, the GM made the trip!) The door was closed, and Hurdle divulged no details of what had been discussed beyond some "very routine" planning for the pending exit interviews they do with players each September.

All exit interviews this year should be occurring on a much higher level.

And if and when one happens with Huntington or Hurdle, one question really ought to be asked related to the Pirates' 6-5, 11-inning loss to the Phillies on this particular night: Gentlemen, at what point in the day did it dawn on you that you'd be missing half your bullpen for a major-league game? Neal, since you're the general manager and it's your roster to generally manage, how about you go first?

My God. Over 2 1/2 hours in that room, did this seriously never come up?

Let's set the stage here, starting with the finish: Michael Feliz, one of four relievers who'd been deemed by the athletic training staff to be either unavailable or limited for this game, served up a hanging slider for a walkoff home run to old friend Sean Rodriguez on the opening at-bat of the Philadelphia 11th:

There it went. Joe Musgrove's solid six-inning start. A superb defensive show by Starling Marte. A titanic, tying blast by Josh Bell in the ninth. Another huge hit by Kevin Newman. Two more by Bryan Reynolds.

All poof.

But it'd be unfair to single out Feliz or even Richard Rodriguez, who flipped a 4-2 lead in the eighth into a 5-4 deficit by serving up two home runs of his own, to Bryce Harper and to another old friend, Corey Dickerson. It'd be terribly unfair, actually. Because this bullpen -- no, this team that continues to put forth max effort even amid an 11-31 post-break plunge -- deserved a hell of a lot better than to be deployed at half-strength.

Which is exactly what they were, as all involved had been aware that the following relievers would be deemed unavailable:

• Feliz, because he'd pitched Friday and Sunday against the Reds, as well as four times in seven days

Kyle Crick, because he'd pitched Saturday and Sunday

Keone Kela, because, as Hurdle acknowledged after the game, "We haven't wanted to pitch him back-to-back days," referencing Kela's shoulder injury from earlier in the season

Felipe Vazquez, because he'd pitched Friday and Sunday, including a four-out save in the latter ... though Hurdle would later clarify he'd be available in a 'save-only' usage, as was the case a couple times on the recent trip through St. Louis and Anaheim

Don't roll the eyes at the usage restrictions, please. It's 2019, not 1969, and this is how pitchers are handled today. After years of learning about this from medical people, athletic trainers and the athletes themselves, I've come to respect it completely.

But that doesn't excuse, in any way, not making a single roster move to support the staff.

Sure, the options at Class AAA Indianapolis are, well, awful. And I don't want to see the second or third or 10th comings of Geoff Hartlieb, Montana DuRapau, Alex McRae or -- gasp -- Dovydas Neverauskas anymore than anyone else does. But someone needed to be summoned so that this manager didn't have to navigate this game as it embarrassingly played out.

I mean, Chris Stratton was pretty much dying on the mound in the ninth and 10th, giving up four walks and two hits while tiptoeing through multiple baseball miracles to avoid the winning run. But based on the circumstance, Hurdle and Ray Searage -- and all the players who'd made this a tooth-and-nail event -- they all had to just watch it. And watch it. And watch it.

Fifty pitches. Twenty-eight balls.

"Chris didn't have his best stuff, but man, he battled," Joe Musgrove, the starter, would marvel later. "He just stuck with it."

He had no choice. No one had a choice.

Other than, uh, Parker Markel.

Look, if Huntington and/or Hurdle lacked confidence in any of those Indianapolis options I cited up there, even as an emergency inning-eater had something happened to Musgrove, then I can't think of anything that would speak more powerfully to the sorry state of this system that this front office has had a dozen years to ... deflate? Devastate?

See, this is why I keep pumping this issue. It's at the core of everything.

Go ahead and finger-wag at Hurdle all night long. He's the one on the TV screen, so he's the easy target. But he's also the one who had Feliz warm up and ultimately enter. He's also the one who had Vazquez warm up when it appeared a save opportunity could be at hand. And he can't and doesn't dictate pitcher usage policy. And he most assuredly doesn't execute personnel promotions from the minors.

What was Huntington thinking?

All I know is that he's done it often in the past, and the closest I've come to discerning a pattern is that he over-values the fringes of his 40-man roster and, in turn, fears losing mediocre players through waivers and the like. And that, I've long believed, is because so much of this front office's focus has always been on everything but the game being played by the Pirates' most important affiliate -- you know, the one based in Pittsburgh -- that priorities get lost.

Games get lost, too.

They'll backpedal on this. Bet on it. Once everyone gets their story in sync, we'll hear as soon as Tuesday afternoon that so-and-so was actually available or that such-and-such matter arose at the last minute.

Don't believe a word if it happens. The four names I bulleted above as being unavailable were read aloud on the AT&T SportsNet broadcast by Greg Brown, and all of the announcers -- all employed by the team -- have access to such information before the game. Besides, Brown's way too meticulous in his preparation to wing it with something like that.

The Pirates entered this evening with eight relievers listed. Half of them couldn't participate at close to full capacity.

Imagine how much uglier this could've been if the people on the field cared as much as those running this franchise into the ground.

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