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The Rays won a game, but did Kevin Cash risk something more valuable?

John Romano: One out away from the first shutout of his career, Ryan Yarbrough is miffed about being pulled by Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash with no runners on base.
Ryan Yarbrough was one out away from throwing the first complete game and shutout of his big league career when he was pulled in the ninth inning of Sunday's 1-0 victory against Seattle. [TED S. WARREN | Associated Press]
Ryan Yarbrough was one out away from throwing the first complete game and shutout of his big league career when he was pulled in the ninth inning of Sunday's 1-0 victory against Seattle. [TED S. WARREN | Associated Press]
Published Aug. 12, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays, more than any team in Major League Baseball, do not make rash, emotional decisions. They always weigh long-term considerations over short-term gratification.

That’s why pitchers are pulled maddeningly early from starts, to protect their arms. That’s why minor leaguers are often slow to be promoted, to maximize their contract status.

And, ironically, that is why it was a mistake for manager Kevin Cash to pull Ryan Yarbrough when he was one out away from a complete-game shutout on Sunday against the Mariners.

Cash has the ultimate winning argument on his side — reliever Emilio Pagan retired the final hitter and the Rays completed a three-game sweep with the 1-0 victory.

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But his decision flies in the face of what this franchise typically preaches. He allowed the outcome of one game to potentially hamper Tampa Bay’s long-term future.

And, make no mistake, that’s a possible ramification.

Yarbrough handled his disappointment with grace, telling Times baseball writer Marc Topkin that he was a little angry but he did not harbor any ill will toward his manager. And none of the other players in the clubhouse spoke publicly about the Machiavellian manner of the decision.


But, no matter what the numbers, matchups and metrics say, the game still has a human element. Players believe in the greater good, but that doesn’t mean they are bereft of pride. And it’s a lot easier to bust your butt and buy into a manager’s mantra when you’re confident he will always have your back.

There was just a hint of that dynamic Sunday evening when Jake Faria, who was recently traded from the Rays to the Brewers, seemed to criticize Cash without naming him in a tweet.

“Just couldn’t let @RyanYarbrough2 have it. Smh,’’ Faria wrote, using the acronym for shaking my head.

And what makes it worse is the rationale behind the decision was, by no means, a slam-dunk.

First of all, Yarbrough was as close to dominant as you can get without throwing a no-hitter. The three hits he allowed were a bunt and two soft liners, neither of which cracked 90 mph in exit velocity.

He didn’t give up a walk, went to a three-ball count on only three hitters, and did not allow a runner to reach second base. A seventh-inning drive to the wall by Austin Nola that was caught by Guillermo Heredia was really the only hard-hit ball of the afternoon.

And while Cash obviously felt it was better to have Pagan face pinch-hitter Omar Narvaez than Yarbrough take on Domingo Santana, that strategy could easily be picked apart.

With no one on base, the one thing the Rays had to worry about was a home run. And Pagan’s home run ratio of 4.2 is nearly double Yarbrough’s 2.3. And Yarbrough’s ratio is even lower against righthanders, such as Santana.

It might have been different if Yarbrough was obviously fading, or if the winning run was at the plate. But, at that moment, the worst thing that could have happened was a tie game.

ESPN reported that Yarbrough was the 21st pitcher to have a shutout with one out to go this season, and he is the only one to get pulled.

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In fact, it’s hard to find any precedent to support the decision.

If I did the research correctly on baseballreference.com, it’s been 33 years since a starting pitcher was removed from a shutout with two outs in the ninth and no runners on base.

Like Yarbrough, it was a young lefthander pitching for a team in contention in August and holding on to a 1-0 lead. Rookie Jim Deshaies of the Astros was beating the Pirates on Aug. 19, 1986 when manager Hal Lanier brought in closer Dave Smith who got the final out.

Lanier, who was a star athlete at St. Petersburg’s Boca Ciega High in the early 1960s, used the same rationale as Cash regarding matchups. The first-year manager said after the game he was concerned that Deshaies was a fastball pitcher and Pirates third baseman Jim Morrison was a dead fastball hitter.

“I know that (Deshaies) wanted to finish but I can't go for sentiment," said Lanier, who went on to win the National Manager of the Year award. “The game comes first.’’

In that sense, it is hard to criticize Cash.

He could have avoided a lot of second-guessing and criticism by simply leaving Yarbrough in, but Cash was doing what he thought best to win a close game.

And in the end the Rays did win the game, but they may have lost something of value along the way.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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