Jon Rauch Demoted From Mets Setup Role

By Matt Musico

After a string of unproductive outings, Terry Collins finally had the last straw as Jon Rauch gave up the game-winning home run to Russell Martin on Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. There has been a big switch in the bullpen, as Rauch will no longer have the setup role while he tries to get himself back on track. The Mets reliever was dealing with some elbow discomfort last week, but stated that his health has nothing to do with his performance, and that his 8.36 ERA since April 29th has just been poor pitching on his part.

At the beginning of the season, there were specific roles for a few of Collins’ relievers; Ramon Ramirez would handle the 7th, Rauch would set everything up in the 8th, and Frank Francisco would shut the door in the 9th. Now that Ramirez is on the DL (also wasn’t pitching that great) and Rauch has been struggling, Collins has decided to mix things up in his ‘pen after a long talk with pitching coach Dan Warthen. As of right now, no reliever has a specific role as to what inning they will be pitching, other than Francisco, who will continue closing games for New York.

As for who will be gaining the late inning assignments, Collins will continue to put Bobby Parnell into that 8th inning role, while also using Miguel Batista in those situations, who has garnered some experience there throughout his career. Tim Byrdak, primarily the lefty specialist this year, could also possibly be getting some time there as well.

Let’s be honest, this demotion was going to happen sooner, and Rauch was well aware of that. When asked about him losing his setup job for the time being, he completely understands and wants what is best for the team:

"“It’s going to be more beneficial for the team to have those guys who are pitching well to be in those late-game situations until I can get back on track and hopefully earn my role back.”"

In April, Rauch was one of the Mets most reliable relievers, putting together a 2.35 ERA in 10.2 innings pitched, with opponents hitting

only .135 off him. As we have moved through each month, his performance has progressively gotten worse. In May, he posted a 5.56 ERA in 11.1 innings, along with a .340 OP BA. June hasn’t been kind to the right-hander either, with batters hitting at a .400 clip in 2.1 innings pitched, leading to an 11.57 ERA.

So, what happened? That’s a question Dan Warthen will be trying to figure out with Rauch as he tries to regain his confidence in low stress situations. The one thing that I’ve seen is that he’s not using his fastball as much as he was in the first month of the season. One of the most asked questions in the game is: “What’s the best pitch in baseball?” There are two schools of thought here; some say the best pitch is strike one, while others (including Greg Maddux) says it’s a well placed fastball. For Rauch, he needs to utilize his fastball to be effective again for the Mets out of the ‘pen.

With an average fastball speed of 89.9 mph, it’s clear that Rauch isn’t going to be blowing hitters away, but he has gotten away from using the pitch with the same frequency as he has in years past. Throughout his career, which started in 2002, Rauch has always thrown his fastball to opposing hitters at a rate over 50%, with a slider being his main secondary pitch. So far this year, he has gotten away from using his fastball, which he has thrown 47% of the time, down from the 58% that he threw it last year for the Blue Jays. That decrease has led to increasing the use of his slider to 37.2% of the time, up from 23.9% last year.

I”m no pitcher, but it seems that if a pitcher continually throws a breaking ball, he’s bound to hang some here or there. That’s happened to Rauch lately, with the hanging slider he threw to Russell Martin on Sunday being the most recent display. Hopefully Rauch will be able to get back on track and retake the setup role in the bullpen. He has obviously lost confidence in his fastball, so once he regains that with improved control of it, he will be back to his April form.