Cincinnati skipper Dusty Baker offers many good qualities as a manager and has proven that, in the right situations, he can win. But watching Aaron Harang drop to 4-15 in a loss to Pittsburgh this week in the latest outing of a disastrous season, it's difficult not to ask the question of whether the Reds misused Harang earlier this season and whether that helped wreck his -- and their -- season.
One month ago, in the first week of August, Dayton Daily News Hall of Fame beat writer Hal McCoy quoted Baker: "I have never wanted to win more than I do right here, and I will, but this is Wayne Krivsky's team, not Walt Jocketty's and not mine."
Baker is -- or should be -- better that that, better than shifting the entire blame for the Reds' mess of '08 onto the lap of the GM who was fired way back in April. Yes, the deposed GM should shoulder his share of the blame, but Krivsky was long gone by the time the Reds lost a 12-9, 18-inning game in San Diego on May 25 that, in hindsight, appears to be the classic example of trading short-term gratification for long-term suffering.
Three days after he threw 103 pitches over 5 1/3 innings, Harang worked four innings in relief during that 18-inning game, throwing another 63 pitches. Total count: 166 pitches in a four-day stretch.
That's questionable enough. What's even more questionable is that the Reds then asked Harang to start four days after that, on May 29, instead of giving him an extra day or two of rest. Harang threw 73 pitches over four innings that day as Pittsburgh cuffed him for 10 hits and six runs in four innings. Total count over the eight-day period: 239 pitches.
If Baker couldn't help himself, someone -- Jocketty, pitching coach Dick Pole -- should have stepped in and demanded that the club, following Harang's relief appearance, erred on the side of giving the pitcher extra rest rather than shorting him at all.
Harang landed on the disabled list with a sore right forearm on July 13 and was activated Aug. 10. It was his first stint on the DL since 2004.
Fogg, a swingman with deep experience as a starter, could have lasted far longer. But as it was, once he and Bray ( 1 1/3 innings) were burned, Baker was backed into a corner and ended the game with Harang going four innings and starter Edinson Volquez, who will be a Cy Young candidate, going 1 2/3 innings.
Granted, nobody knew in the 11th inning that day that the game was going to drag on through the 18th.
But poor starting pitching is a big contributing reason as to why the Reds, who were officially eliminated from the NL Central race on Wednesday, now are finishing their eighth consecutive losing season. Within that, with starting pitching as thin as it is today, all clubs must take care of their aces, and nowhere is that more important than on clubs that traditionally lack pitching.
Since his relief appearance in the 18-inning marathon on May 25, Harang is 2-8 with a 7.65 ERA.
This from a man whose six-year career ERA going into 2008 was 4.15.