June 11, 2017 2:23:06 AM
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Riley Self was a very popular young man around 11 p.m. Saturday night.
That was the time when LSU's rally for four runs in the bottom of the eighth -- ultimately Mississippi State's undoing in the 4-3 loss -- hit a critical point. MSU reliever Peyton Plumlee found himself pitching to LSU's slugging right fielder Greg Deichmann, he of 19 home runs and a .614 slugging percentage entering the game.
MSU fans called for Self. They called Self even louder after Plumlee gave up the two-run double that changed the game for good.
They eventually got their wish, as Self entered the game after the Deichmann double. The fact that he allowed two hits and two more runs did not settle the debate: should MSU coach Andy Cannizaro have gone to Self for the Deichmann at-bat, or maybe even earlier?
Here is why the decision Cannizaro made is 100 percent defensible.
First, allow Cannizaro to defend himself. This is his complete response when asked about that sequence of events.
"You've got six outs to go right there. You're asking a freshman that's thrown more innings than he's ever had in his life to go out there and try to get you six outs, and we're just not built that way right now," Cannizaro said. "You're talking about a guy that's already had a shoulder surgery, he's already missed weeks this year two separate times with two different elbow issues. We're not going to be able to get six outs from him tonight, six outs again tomorrow, six outs again Monday, we're not built that way right now.
"Peyton has been throwing the ball really well in the past couple of weeks and everybody in that dugout has the utmost confidence in him. There was no wavering at all, there wasn't even a conversation of, 'Hey, should we got to Self here?' We expected Peyton to be able to get us through the eighth right there and unfortunately, he wasn't able to do it tonight."
First, the numbers support his claim about Plumlee.
Self has been a lockdown reliever for weeks now -- so much so that he has taken the closer role from Spencer Price, the one time national leader in saves -- so he deserves this affection from the fan base. The only unfair aspect of it is it discredits Plumlee.
Plumlee's seven appearances before the Baton Rouge Super Regional -- dating back to the entire month of May -- have seen him throw a combined 20 2/3 innings with 17 hits and eight runs allowed. His most recent appearance, four innings of two-hit, one-run relief against South Alabama in the Hattiesburg Regional, was vital to MSU reaching this Super Regional in the first place.
Self would have been a passable option to go against Deichmann, for sure. But he's far from the only option -- MSU had a good one on the mound.
The other thing about it: Self truly doesn't need to throw two full innings, as he would have been asked to do. He has and continues to show the ability to do it -- and I'm guessing he would want to do it if asked -- but that doesn't mean he should.
The incredibly important detail here is that Self is being shut down over the summer. That's notable because, under normal circumstances, that would never happen.
Self is a Freshman All-American; that's attractive to summer league teams. He's got a fastball with speed and movement; that's attractive to summer league teams. He's shown the ability to get one out and the ability to get seven or eight; that's attractive to summer league teams.
He's also a pitcher that needs summer ball. He has only one pitch, a cutter, and could use some work on his others to potentially earn a spot in the starting rotation. All of that is why he had a spot on the roster with the Amsterdam Mohawks of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League in New York.
Yet, he won't be there. At the moment, it's possible Self needs rest more than he needs a breaking ball.
All of this is to go back to what Cannizaro said after the game and what has been painfully obvious for months: this team is not afforded the ability to behave normally. A team with a fully staffed bullpen -- one not ravaged by injury like MSU's -- can work around an arm like Self. If you have a pitcher you want to be careful with, you simply use him for an out or two every so often and distribute those remaining outs through whatever bullpen arms you choose.
MSU has too few options that are dependable at this very moment to use that strategy.
Spencer Price had a strong outing in Hattiesburg, yes; that also followed a lackluster appearance earlier in the regional and a lackluster string of weeks. Pitchers such as Trey Jolly, Cole Gordon and Trysten Barlow could have been used, sure, but MSU will have to find someone to finish games for the rest of the series. Running out of bullpen arms is very much a tangible line for MSU, as the final day of the Southeastern Conference Tournament proved.
It was either Plumlee or Self, and Cannizaro chose Plumlee with two defensible reasons at his back. This is baseball, after all: just because a decision didn't work on a given attempt doesn't mean it was a bad one.