Astros' Dusty Baker explains staying with Justin Verlander, using Luis Garcia late in Game 1 vs. Phillies

Astros' Dusty Baker explains staying with Justin Verlander, using Luis Garcia late in Game 1 vs. Phillies

Dusty Baker has often been scrutinized for his bullpen usage in big games. Game 1 of the 2022 World Series against the Phillies was no different.

The Astros manager was questioned about two decisions in particular: waiting until starter Justin Verlander had given up a five-run lead before pulling the veteran starter, and turning to the team’s No. 4 starter as the first arm out of the bullpen in extra innings rather than handing the ball to one of the team’s most reliable relief arms.

Baker explained his decision-making process after Houston’s 6-5, 10-inning loss at home.

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When it came to pulling Verlander, he said the Astros were “in the same boat” as the Phillies, with starter Aaron Nola still in the game after giving up five runs in the first three innings. He also trusted Verlander could return to form.

“You could say how come they didn’t take Nola out earlier,” Baker said. “It’s hard to take Justin out because he can struggle for a while, but he usually gets it back together. And you don’t want to just go through your whole bullpen that early in the game.”

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Verlander, the American League Cy Young favorite in 2022, cruised through three perfect innings but hit a rut in the fourth. He gave up singles to Rhys Hoskins and Bryce Harper before Nick Castellanos looped a two-out single to left that drove in Hoskins. The next batter, Alec Bohm, roped a double into the left-field corner, scoring Harper and Castellanos and cutting Houston’s lead to 5-3.

Verlander walked the next batter, Bryson Stott, but then got Jean Segura to pop out to end the inning.

“Had there been no outs, there might have been a different story, but with two outs, you need one more out to get out of that inning,” Baker said.

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But Verlander’s struggles continued in the fifth. He allowed a leadoff double to Brandon Marsh and a walk to Kyle Schwarber to put runners on first and second with no one out. After Hoskins popped out, J.T. Realmuto doubled to left, scoring Marsh and Schwarber to tie the game 5-5. Verlander then retired Harper and Castellanos to end the inning.

Bryan Abreu started to warm up in the fifth but was not in the bullpen until Verlander was already in trouble in the frame.

Baker’s other bullpen moves worked out. Abreu pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings, though he needed to be bailed out in the seventh by Hector Neris with the bases loaded. Rafael Montero and Ryan Pressly delivered scoreless frames to help send the game to extra innings.

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Baker sent Garcia, the team’s No. 4 starter, out to start the 10th. He had Stanek, who had pitched to a 1.15 ERA in the regular season, available, but Baker said he liked the matchups with Garcia more.

Garcia gave up a leadoff home run to Realmuto that proved to be the game-winning hit.

“Our matchup sheet had Garcia over Stanek, and also to give us some length,” Baker said. “I mean, [Realmuto] hit a good pitch, fastball away in the short porch [in right field at Minute Maid Park] and that was the deciding run, but we had the winning runs on base to end the game. We had a pretty good lead early and, I mean, it’s easy to say if Stanek had given it up, then how come we used Stanek? It didn’t work.”

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Stanek eventually relieved Garcia with two out and a runner on in the 10th. He issued a walk and then got the final out.  

The bullpen should be an area where the Astros have an advantage in this series. Houston had the lowest team bullpen ERA in the regular season at 2.80, while the Phillies ranked 23rd at 4.27. On Friday, the Phillies’ bullpen got the better of it. Five pitchers combined for 5 2/3 scoreless innings in relief of Nola.