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Pinch Hitters and Austin Nola

I don't say this very often, but I think Mainieri was outcoached against Baylor.  Well, not exactly outcoached, because so much goes into coaching beyond tactics and whatnot, so let's reduce that to Mainieri was outmaeuvered tactically. 

Steve Smith, Baylor's head coach, did the unexpected and started a RHP.  Mainieri reacted as we all probably would, he trotted out his RHP lineup with Landry leading off and Ochinko on the bench.  Tolleson lasted 4 innings, and though he allowed only 2 runs, he was in trouble every single inning.  But instead of going to his reliever core, Smith went to his lefty starter, Aaron Miller.

This wasn't like going to the pen normally.  Miller is a starter.  Smith was bringing him on, essentially, to pitch the second half of a close game.  Mainieri reacted by doing, well, nothing.  With a bench full of right handed hitters, Mainieri didn't use a pinch hitter in a tight ballgame until the 10th inning, when the LHP was long gone and the platoon advantage was erased. 

Mainieri dutifully sent Landry up there each time to face a lefty, the beginning of three straight lefties in the lineup, as well as Mitchell in the back half of the order.  Schimpf had one of his worst hitting days in his career.  OK, I admit Landry was sent up to bunt Nola over in the 5th and he ended up drawing a walk.  I think that was a proper time to not use a pinch hitter.  But in the 7th?  Mainieri just seemed paralyzed by Smith's tactics. 

By the time he did use a pinch hitter, it was in the 10th.  and that was more of a move to say "I have more faith in Ochinko than Hanover."  Which is fine, and it certainly worked out.  But it was odd Mainieri was so reluctant to use his bench in a tight game.  Especially his lefty Chad Jones. 

The same thing happened against Southern, actually.

After bunting the leadoff runner over to second down 2-1 in the 7th, a perfectly defensible decision given the game score and late inning, Mainieri trotted up Mitchell to hit against a LHP.  It was a situation that screamed for a pinch hitter, especially with the way Helenihi has been hitting recently.  Mainieri let a guy who can;t hit lefties and then his #9 hitter come to the plate after bunting the runner over. 

Now, the #9 hitter came through in spectacular fashion, as Nola keyed a seven-run two-out rally.  But were these the two hitters you wanted to be setting the table for?  With Nola, maybe the answer is yes.  His hitting line hasn't improved, but each one of his hits seems to generate really good things.  He has 22 hits on the season and... 22 runs. 

But he's been even more clutch in the postseason.  In the SEC tourney, he went 3-17 with 3 walks.  Nola was on base 6 times and scored 5 runs.  That's an amazing rate.  No doubt it's helped by hitting right in front of the top of the order, but it also speaks to Nola's ability to spark rallies.  Those 3 hits also generated 3 RBI's.  Against Southern, Nola went 1-4, but he drove in a run and scored the only time he got a hit.  Against Baylor, Nola went 2-4 with the critical 2-out RBI.  He's always been in the right place at the right time.

Now, I have said many times I don't believe in the clutch hitter.  And that's still true, but it is also true clutch hitting exists.  Anytime a hitter comes through with two outs in the 10th inning, that's a clutch hit.  It may not be a repeatable skill, but it still counts as a clutch hit.  Right now, Nola is getting more clutch hits than anyone on the team.  Let's ride this out.   I actually want our #9 hitter up there with two outs in the 10th inning of a tie ball game.