PHILADELPHIA – Rocco Baldelli has been a major league manager for only seven games. But it’s a profession in which the tests come daily, so he is processing outcomes and learning from the successes as well as the failures.
Every game, every inning, nearly every pitch, Baldelli has to justify his beliefs and strategies. So he already has had several defining moments in his brief managerial career. He let Max Kepler face nasty lefthander Brad Hand in a late-inning situation last weekend. He held back Byron Buxton this past week because of a minor back injury. And, on Friday, he had to take the ball from his friend, Jake Odorizzi, during a first-inning implosion.
You probably would have a hard time getting one of the 30 major league managers to agree to wear a heart monitor for a day, because they probably don’t want to know the results. But Baldelli, the 37-year-old rookie manager, has immersed himself in the lifestyle, conducting countless meetings, preparing for scenarios and dealing with the stress that comes with it.
He leaves ballparks hours after games, wondering if it all he did made sense.
“For sure. That’s all we do,” Baldelli said when asked about second-guessing himself. “This is what we do, and we spend a lot of time critiquing ourselves and trying to get better and trying to figure things out. Spent a lot of time preparing for these National League games in particular.”
Not everything has worked. In a 2-1 loss to Cleveland on March 30, Buxton led off the ninth with a double. With tough Hand, an elite lefthander, on the mound, Baldelli didn’t flinch when Kepler went to the plate. Kepler struck out while trying to drive Buxton in. Buxton eventually reached third but never scored.
Kepler didn’t bunt. Baldelli didn’t pinch hit a righthanded hitter to face the lefthanded Hand. It showed that Baldelli believes in Kepler, who has hit lefties well. The move didn’t work, but it could pay off as the season progresses — and against someone in Hand, whom Kepler might face several more times this season.
Buxton injured his back Tuesday at Kansas City while crashing into the wall. The fleet outfielder knew he wouldn’t start the next day, but he pinch ran in the ninth and scored the winning run. All signs pointed to him being back in the lineup Friday, but Baldelli held him out an extra day. And he explained his reasons to Buxton.
“He wants us all on the same page so that keeps us together, keeps us at a great bond and it also keeps us players and coaches [that] we can go up and stay honest,” Buxton said, “Even when we’re hurt, you can stay honest about it and not have that scary sense of like, ‘As soon as I say something, I’m going to be put on the IL.’ ”
Baldelli was asked if he sensed Buxton was fine with being held out a day longer.
“I think he does, but he’s a competitive guy,” Baldelli said. “He likes to play and he also drops some ‘Yes, sir’ sometimes when I say things and maybe I expect him to tell me something back.”
Odorizzi also is a competitor, but when he nearly conducted open-heart surgery on Andrew McCutchen with the first pitch of Friday’s game, something was wrong. Odorizzi could not get a feel for his pitches on a soggy night in south Philly.
After Odorizzi gave up two runs, two hits and three walks, Baldelli could not watch anymore. He pulled Odorizzi, with whom he has a strong relationship from when he was a coach and Odorizzi was a player with the Rays.
Odorizzi even apologized as he left the mound.
“I said, ‘I tried everything I could to locate pitches and get a feel for the baseball but I couldn’t do anything that I wanted to do out here today,’ ” Odorizzi said.
Baldelli said it was hard to relieve Odorizzi of his duties — but it would have been harder to leave him in.
“That’s a challenging thing,” Baldelli said. “I just thought it was the right time. You can always talk yourself into or out of any of those types of decisions.
“Early in the game, it’s a situation where for a lot of reasons you want to let him keep pitching. But at that point in the inning with everything going on around us, it was the right time. We’ll work through it.”
And Baldelli will move on. His résumé is only seven games long, but it’s filling up daily. Wins can be celebrated for only so long. Losses, particularly the 10-4 fiasco on Friday, have to be learned from. Roster moves? When is the right time?
The self-analysis never ends.
“Without getting into specifics, we ended up talking about all the decisions and everything that goes on in our games,” Baldelli said. “This is what we talk about after the game and when we wake up the next day and trying to see if there’s any adjustments we have to make or if we just flat out made any mistakes. Generally we try not to pat ourselves on the back too much. It’s more about how we can be better.”