The bullpen is obviously the Achilles Heel of the 2007 Reds (okay, the left Achilles Heel — the offense is a pretty glaring weakness, too).  We’ve been discussing the problem, and possible fixes, and one of my pet theories is that the relievers lack (and have lacked, since last May) coherent roles.  I don’t place the blame entirely on Jerry Narron — it’s pretty hard to keep throwing Todd Coffey out for the 8th inning if you can’t count on him.  But whether it’s chicken or egg, I think the lack of any defined bullpen roles is a problem.

But since I keep spouting this theory, I figured I’d better make sure it is true.  Thanks to Baseball-reference.com’s excellent new game log feature, we can see just how Narron has been using his relievers. 

I want to look at most of the bullpen, but with as many games as these guys have been pitching, it’s easiest (and most interesting) to start with the biggest whipping boy, Frenchie Cormier: (Shawn says we should cut Cormier)

Everyone seems to agree that he stinks, but how has he been used?  The first answer is “not often” — he hasn’t pitched since April 18, when he got bombed against Houston (1.1 IP, 4 H, 3 ER).  That outing accounts for all the hits and runs he’s allowed on the year.  And on 4/17, he beaned the only guy he faced to load the bases. 

But he’d actually been effective in his role before that:  4 outings, 3 of them to get a single out, and once for 2 outs.  Each time, he pitched in a game that was either tied or where the Reds had a lead of 1-2 runs.  Both times he entered the game with runners on base, he got out of the inning unscathed. 

Used properly, Cormier has actually been effective.  I think Narron mis-used him in that game against the Astros, bringing him in after Coffey had blown the lead and with runners on 1st and 2nd.  Sure, lefty Luke Scott was up, but you had to anticipate that Garner was going to use Loretta to pinch-hit there.  With 2 out in the 8th, and the go-ahead run on 2nd, I think you have to go with your closer there, even if your closer is David Weathers.  If Cormier stays in the bullpen that afternoon, Weathers faces Scott, perhaps preserves the tie, and stays in for the 9th (the pitcher’s spot had just batted).  And Cormier’s ERA is still 0.00. 

My point isn’t to second-guess the moves from the middle of last week (well, not my only point), but to show that Cormier may at least be able to be a LOOGY.  Keep him out of situations where the opposition is likely to pinch-hit with a righty (the 4/17 game was the same deal – he beaned Corey Hart, who pinch-hit for Gabe Gross), and he can at least get you an out or two.  Is he worth keeping around to do just that?  Maybe not…if you have guys who can get outs in less-confining circumstances. 

More thoughts…

After thinking more on this, I realized I’d ignored half the issue about Cormier’s usage:  what happened after the April 20 blowup.  Narron’s obviously gun-shy – has his reluctance to use Cormier hurt the club over the past week?

We should start with the premise that Cormier was unavailable on the 19th, after pitching the 2 games before.  That makes six games where he’s sat on the bench:

4/20 – Reds 2, Phils 1.  This was the Hatteberg HR game.  Lohse went 7, Stanton threw the 8th, Coffey the 9th, and Countlangus the 10th.  No situation for Cormier.

4/21 – Phils 4, Reds 1.  Milton goes 6, Santos pitches an effective 7th, and gives up a HR to Rowand in the 8th, Saarloos in the 9th.  Again, no real LOOGY situation.

4/22 – Phils 9, Reds 3.  Belisle gives up 4 runs in 5 IP.  Coffey pitches the 6th, then gives way to Coutlangus to face Victorino-Utley-Howard in the 7th.  This was probably Cormier’s spot a week earlier.  Utley walked, stole second, and scored on EE’s error.  Saarloos comes in via double-switch, the leaves with 2 out and runners on the corners in the 8th for Stanton.  Another Cormier spot, arguably.  Stanton strikes out Victorino to end the inning.  Coming back for the 9th, he walks Utley and gives up a HR to Howard to make the lead 7-2.  Then Helms doubles.

4/24 – Reds 10, StL 3.  Harang goes 7.2 IP.  Stanton comes in to face Duncan w/ 2 out and Molina on 2nd.  Duncan singles, as does Pujols, before Stanton gets an out.  The Reds had an 8-run lead, but it was a spot for a lefty reliever.

4/25 – Cards 5, Reds 2.  Bronson a stud for 7 IP, leaves tied 1-1.  Saarloos doesn’t retire any of the 4 guys he faces.  Coutlangus comes in to face Edmonds with guys on 1st and 2nd – he retires Taguchi, the PH, then Santos comes in.

4/26 – Cards 7, Reds 5.  Lohse struggles through 6 IP, leaves down 5-4.  Coutlangus brought in to face the lefty Schumacher.  He gives up a single before yielding to Coffey who gets Pujols, and walks Rolen.  Narron leaves Coffey in to face Edmonds (L), Spezio (B), and Kennedy (L). 

I’m not sure what, exactly, to make of this.  One thing that did become clear, though, is the lack of roles.  By my count, there were 6 spots this week for a lefty reliever.  The first two came in the same game, and Narron called on Coutlangus and then Stanton.  Both failed.  The next one was in a blowout, but Stanton failed again.  Coutlangus was called on the next 2 times, and succeeded.  Then yesterday, Narron let Coffey handle the LH meat of the Cards’ order, and he got drilled.

A little over one week, and four separate guys called on to get the key outs against lefty hitters.  There’s got to be a better way of running that particular railroad.