David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
BALTIMORE - What? Did you believe the Mets' conservation plan involving Matt Harvey was only going to impact the team on the days he's supposed to pitch?
Well, think again. The rotation doesn't operate independent of the bullpen, and vice versa. The object of the game is to get through nine innings, however possible, and a team has a finite number of arms to do that.
Attach a few restrictions on any of those pitchers, such as innings limits or pitch counts, and that task becomes increasingly more difficult. Terry Collins experienced that domino effect for the first time in last night's 5-4 loss to the Orioles, courtesy of Henry Urrutia's walk-off homer. And with the Mets' imminent plans to cut back on innings during the next six weeks, it may not be the last.
The Mets failed to hold leads of 3-1 and 4-3 before Urrutia, the Orioles' No. 8 hitter, greeted Carlos Torres with the winning homer to open the ninth. We could spend days debating why Collins didn't go with Jeurys Familia with the score tied, or the merits of using a closer on the road in that situation, but it's just an accepted practice. Most go by the book, a few do not.
Perhaps the real turning point of this game, however -- or the topic still open for discussion -- was the Mets' decision to use Logan Verrett for only three outs in the sixth inning. We're not pinning this solely on Collins because there are other forces at work here, including the mandate that Verrett, who had been stretched out as a starter at Triple-A Las Vegas, could not go any further than one inning because he had to be saved to start Sunday's game at Coors Field.
Up until Wednesday night, Harvey officially was listed as the Mets' starter that day against the Rockies. But as Collins explained after the loss, Verrett couldn't be pushed into the seventh because of the likelihood he will replace Harvey, who needs to bank some innings for September.
Here's the issue: Verrett threw only six pitches to get three outs. We're not saying Verrett is Craig Kimbrel, but the Mets' bullpen is a 21/2-man operation right now -- Hansel Robles is the half -- and that's going to require Collins to be a bit more creative.
Again, that's as long as the front office is going to be saddling him with spot starts and other restrictions, which is what forced Verrett to take a seat earlier than he probably should have. Verrett had the innings in him. But Collins couldn't put Sunday's turn in jeopardy.
"He was just going an inning anyway," Collins said. "That's what we had planned on today so that's what we did."
With Steven Matz scheduled for his second rehab start Thursday for Class A St. Lucie, the Mets expected to huddle at some point to map out their strategy for preserving the rotation over the next month or so -- and eventually announce Verrett as Sunday's starter.
But in the meantime, they had a potential victory in their hands Wednesday night and Collins still felt like they were tied behind his back. If the Mets have Verrett for the seventh, then maybe Robles doesn't give up the tying homer to Adam Jones that inning. Or maybe the Mets can lengthen their bullpen some rather than being left with Torres for the ninth.
Either way, Collins said he wasn't going to alter how he uses Tyler Clippard -- who pitched the eighth with the score tied -- or his closer, and Familia obviously never wound up throwing a pitch in the loss. Some say it's not logical to go down in that scenario without using the closer to give you another shot or two at a win -- as teams do at home -- but Collins won't bend on that as he tries to be mindful of the workload for Clippard and Familia.
"I'm not going to use them except in situations they're supposed to be used in," Collins said. "We just have to find somebody to bridge that gap sometimes." Robles couldn't do it. And for the sake of Harvey, Verrett wasn't allowed to.