The Washington Nationals will chase soon-to-be free agent Mark Melancon hard. Melancon is intrigued by how Andrew Miller has been used this postseason.
Miller, headed to the World Series to face the Chicago Cubs, has taken the old-fashioned role of fireman for Cleveland this postseason. Pitching in a high-leverage spot, sometimes as early as the fifth inning, he has not allowed a run in 11.2 innings, scattering five hits, two walks and 21 strikeouts.
Cleveland, behind his work, won their first American League Pennant since 1997.
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Melancon, a spectator watching on television like the rest of us, is intrigued by the new role. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe says the soon-to-be free agent reliever would like to try the multiple-inning role Miller and Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen did successfully.
The Nationals will do what they can to keep Melancon in Washington for 2017. Coming to DC at the trade deadline, he saved 17 for the Nats in 30 games. With a 1-1 record, his ERA of 1.82 was stellar. In their National League Divisional Series loss to the Dodgers, he pitched 4.1 scoreless innings in four games.
As with most modern bullpen aces, Melancon is not accustomed to multi-inning work. Since becoming the closer with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2013 season, he averaged under an inning a game. In 267 games for the Pirates, he threw 260.1 frames. With the Nationals, he tossed 29.2 innings in 30 games.
Aside from how Cleveland used Miller, manager Terry Francona back up Miller’s bedrock pitching with traditional closer Tony Allen. In six games this postseason, he has five saves, no runs allowed and five hits on the ledger over 7.2 innings. With Allen available to slam the barn door closed, Francona felt he could use Miller earlier to stop rallies early.
Although it is fun to watch relief aces used outside of their traditional ninth-inning closer role, you have to have a bullpen strong enough to finish the job. Depending on how Miler pitches in the World Series, you will see other managers attempt to ring in their stoppers earlier in the game.
This, in the Nationals case, puts greater pressure on Shawn Kelley or Blake Treinen to get those last three outs if a Melancon pitches the sixth to stifle a rally. It will take one case of a blown lead in a game against the New York Mets, or other NL East foe, for fans to holler and every one return to their traditional roles.
Miller has two advantages most closers do not have. He is an AL pitcher. It is easier to have your best reliever throw two innings when you have the designated hitter rule. Also, Miller has never been a true closer outside of 2015 with the New York Yankees.
For Melancon, most of his career and mindset is as the ninth-inning guy. To change that to a 1970s fireman approach would need adjusting and the right teammates behind him. Unlike those firemen, Miller, Melancon and others will not finish the job.
Francona and Dave Roberts with the Dodgers took huge risks by using their aces in different situations. If it backfired, the fans would scream in disbelief.
Yes, bullpen roles will change if Miller and Cleveland win the Series. Melancon’s experiment, hopefully, will be with the Washington Nationals, not elsewhere.