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Easy Street?
2006-08-22 23:40
by Philip Michaels

Over at The Drumbeat, Mark Smoyer writes something strange about Huston Street, who, if you're still averting your eyes after last Friday's game, went on the DL with a groin injury. Well, what he wrote was strange to me, anyhow, and since Ken lets me post stuff here, I can comment on just how strange it was. Smoyer writes, strangely:

Street wasn't automatic early in the season, but he's been getting better and better and was getting even better until things went south fast on Friday. In his previous four starts, he'd allowed four hits, not runs, in four innings.

And the reason that's strange -- again, at least to me -- is that I have a nearly 180-degree opposite view on Street's performance over that same stretch. He's been... all right, but not exactly what you would call automatic, and while three of those four games Smoyer mentions resulted in a save -- the fourth wasn't a save situation -- only one of them was of the three-up-and-three-down variety. One of the appearances in that stretch -- a 5-2 win over Tampa Bay on August 11 -- is particularly interestingly. Street came into the game with a three-run lead, thanks to a pair of insurance runs scored by Oakland in the eighth. After a Greg Norton flyout, Travis Lee and his blistering sub-.215 average, smacked a double to center field; Dioner Navarro followed that with a line-drive single to left that moved Lee to third. That brought the tying run to the plate in the form of Jonny Gomes, who has been known to hit a home run or 20. To his credit, Street struck out Gomes and then retired B.J. Upton on a ground ball to end the self-inflicted threat. In other words, it's a save and an A's win, but not without a lot more excitement than there needed to be.

If Smoyer had decided to look at Street's previous five appearances instead of just four, he would have had to account for the reliever's performance in the August 8 game against Texas. Again, Street came in for the ninth to protect a three-run lead after the A's plated two runners in the eighth, and again, things went south fairly quickly, as Michael Young singled, Carlos Lee doubled, and -- following a Mark Teixeira strike out -- Hank Blalock scored both runners with a single of his own. That made the score 7-6, and, if not for an apparently dubious batter's interference call following a strikeout, the Rangers might still be out there racking up hits against Street. Instead, it's another save for a performance that did little to rescue the A's from danger.

Look, I'm not trying to argue that Huston Street is a bad pitcher, or that I'm not thankful it's him getting the call in the ninth inning as opposed to the likes of Octavio Dotel or Arthur Rhodes or even Billy Koch. Huston Street is a fine, dependable closer -- in theory. Trouble is, that dependability has been more theoretical this year than actual, at least to my admittedly limited powers of observation. I don't know whether it's sophomore inconsistency, some sort of lingering World Baseball Classic hang-over, or just the precursor to last Friday's groin injury, but lately, I've found a Huston Street save opportunity to be something less than a sure bet.

With the exception of maybe Jay Witasick and Scott Sauerbeck -- who at this point are limited to mop-up, blow-out, and "take one for the team, boys" duty, I am relatively sanguine about late-inning pitching changes. Kiko Calero comes in to protect a lead in the eighth? It's no sweat off my brow. Justin Duchscherer gets the call? Ho-humsville. Chad Gaudin is coming into the ballgame? Yeah, that's nice. But Street -- the A's supposed closer -- makes the walk from the bullpen, and I'm lunging for the nearest talisman and trying to calculate just which opposing batter might represent the tying run in whatever ninth-inning meltdown is sure to come.

Consider that, Kiko Calero -- outside of a poor performance the other night in Kansas City when no one in green and gold was exactly covering themselves in glory -- has yielded all of two earned runs in the other 16 2/3 innings he's pitched in July and August. Chad Gaudin hasn't given up a run since the All-Star break. Justin Duchscherer has been the shakiest of these three -- a pair of poor outings against the Royals, plus a couple of no-harm-no-foul stinkers against Seattle -- and even he's been a pretty consistent performer.

Maybe you don't want any of these three guys closing for a prolonged period of time. But for two weeks or so while Street recuperates (and hopeful regains some of his rookie-year reliability)? I think I'll take my chances.

2006-08-23 21:15:09
1.   Jon Weisman
Wow, Mark Smoyer. He, Susan Slusser and I were at the Stanford Daily at the same time.
2006-08-23 23:06:34
2.   scarface
Philip, I kinda agree with you - Street has not looked automatic recently (or earlier for that matter). I actually would split it into 2 cases: I (and my possibly selective memory) find myself very uneasy when Street has to get more than 3 outs for a save, and very comfortable when he just comes in at the beginning of the 9th. I also hate seeing him run out there 3 days in a row, or 4 out of 5 days - kinda seem to remember him failing in such situations.

He also seems like a bulldog-type who wouldn't report minor pains, and might aggravate it. In combination with his apprent overuse, I'm surprised he didn't get injured earlier - I was hoping (in vain) the last couple of months they could find a way to give him a more even schedule in terms of workload...

On a related note, I would love to see a Harden-Street closing tandem at the end of this year - pure fantasy, I realize, but one can hope. (Harden as a starter this year, if at all he returns, was ruled out I think).

I thought Calero was next up to get injured, btw, with his usage pattern in games I saw - although these unexpectedly great performances by Loaiza, and the relatively easy schedule of late might prevent that.

2006-08-24 06:19:48
3.   Philip Michaels
2 More possibly selective memories -- from my vantage point, Street is just fine when he's asked to protect a one-run lead, but all his troubles lately seem to come in those seemingly safe two- and three-run-lead games.

And yes, those multi-inning outings should be kept to a bare minimum.

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