Managers aim to help players during slumps

Managers aim to help players during slumps

Managers aim to help players during slumps
It was the bottom of the seventh inning at Citi Field on April 24, and Mets manager Terry Collins had a decision to make.

His team was down by one. There was a runner on first and two outs. The Marlins had just brought left-hander Randy Choate in from the bullpen to face left-handed-hitting first baseman Ike Davis.

Davis is an important part of the Mets' lineup, but he was also in a deep slump at the time. Collins had only a few seconds to choose between letting Davis bat or sending up a pinch-hitter.

Justin Turner hit for Davis.

"Ultimately, you want that to be known, that it's about the team," Collins said. "It's about the team and not just one or two guys. But at the same time, they've got to believe that you believe in them. They've got to trust you. They've got to trust your judgment. They've got to know that you have their best interests in mind."

Managers make countless decisions in the course of a game. And in an era when handling personalities can be more important than strategy, whether or not to take a hitter or pitcher out of a game in a crucial situation can be among the most difficult, demanding and delicate. A skipper has to balance the imperative of winning a game with making sure a player doesn't feel as though he doesn't believe in him.

Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen touched on that earlier this season when closer Heath Bell was struggling. There was pressure from the fans not to use Bell in save situations, but Guillen resisted.

"Obviously, we need wins, and I'm going to give Bell every opportunity to fail," Guillen said at the time. "It's not easy to have patience. It's not easy to lose games that way. But if you [take him out of the role], maybe he loses confidence."

And confidence is as essential to success in the Major Leagues as physical ability. That's why managers walk a thin line when deciding to pinch-hit, drop a batter in the order, take a pitcher out of the game or alter a hurler's role. Guillen eventually decided that giving Bell a temporary respite from the pressure of closing was necessary.

Astros manager Brad Mills said that as a rule of thumb, he's inclined to stick with a proven hitter, but he added that other factors come into play, including how early or late in the season it is.

"I don't think you pinch-hit for one of your good hitters if he has a track record from past years or [has been] very successful that season," Mills said. "You have to have to let him fail in that situation. If it happens more than once, then you have to talk to him and say, 'Hey, this might be coming.' But I think you have to let him hit."

Charlie Manuel of the Phillies said that winning the game in progress should always take priority, but he also recognizes that there can be fallout that needs to be addressed.

"I don't want to send somebody a message that I don't have confidence in him or that we don't have faith or trust in him," Manuel said. "We're here to build confidence -- to put them in the best possible environment to succeed."

With that in mind, Manuel will often explain to a player why he did what he did. At the same time, Manuel said, players have to be strong enough to accept that what's best for them might not always be what's best for the team.

"Nowadays, that does enter a player's mind -- 'The manager don't like me.' But that's far from the case. That's where mental toughness comes in and being around the game," Manuel said. "Sometimes you're hurting someone's pride or their feelings. But you've got to remember that this is the Major Leagues, and what we're trying to do, the most important priority, is to win the game.

"People ask me all the time, 'Aren't you afraid of hurting their confidence?' Well, this is a mentally tough game. Guys have to understand the game and [that] the most important thing is winning the game."

If a player approaches these situations with the proper frame of mind, he can actually benefit. In August 1991 at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, then-Phillies manager Jim Fregosi lifted Darren Daulton with runners on first and second and one out in the top of the seventh with the Phils trailing by a run.

Unhappy, Daulton asked Fregosi why he'd made the move.

"Because I thought [Ricky Jordan] had a better chance of getting a hit than you did," was Fregosi's blunt reply.

Daulton, who was hitting .183 at the time, would later say that he resolved right then and there to never put himself in that situation again. The following season, Daulton led the National League in RBIs. The year after that, he won the first of two World Series rings and established himself as one of the most respected players in the game.

And how did Collins' decision to bat for Davis work out? Turner walked to keep the rally alive and the Mets tied the score, and they scored once more in the eighth to win it.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.