Brewers manager Ken Macha is in something of a tough spot with closer Trevor Hoffman, the all-time saves leader who has had particular trouble running up his total this season. But Macha pointed out Wednesday morning that he’s been here before.
In 2006, Macha’s final season managing the A’s, veteran slugger Frank Thomas was batting in the .170s into the second week of May, and with a trip looming to Chicago, where Thomas had compiled most of his Hall of Fame-worthy credentials, Oakland officials were considering a change.
“My boss said, ‘You’d better sit down and talk to this guy because it looks like we might have to start platooning him,” Macha said. “So we had an off-day and were going from west to east, so I had a couple of days to think about it.
“I brought him in and asked him how he was feeling, [said] that I didn’t want him to put too much pressure on himself because we were going to Chicago and playing the White Sox. That [first night in Chicago], he hit two homers in that game.”
That was May 22, 2006, and Thomas batted .302 the rest of the season to finish with 39 home runs and 114 RBIs, finishing fourth in American League MVP balloting.
“He helped us win the division,” Macha said. “Then, his bat basically won out playoff series [against the Twins]. When you have a guy like that, when does the switch go back on and [they] perform at that level? I never had to tell Frank, ‘Hey we’re going to platoon you.’ I didn’t want to do that because of the respect I had for the player that he is and the accomplishments that he did have.”
The same goes for Hoffman, who suffered his third blown save in six tries Tuesday night and has surrendered five home runs in eight innings this season. Compare that to last year, when he allowed only two homers in 54 innings on the way to 37 saves.
Macha has no plans to depose Hoffman as the closer, though the closer conundrum did occupy Macha on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. After Tuesday’s loss, Macha he had chats with pitching coach Rick Peterson and general manager Doug Melvin about the struggling closer. On Wednesday morning, Macha spoke with assistant GM Gord Ash, who thinks the problem is mostly location, and head athletic trainer Roger Caplinger, who assured that Hoffman is in top physical shape, as usual.
Then Macha met with Hoffman himself, behind a closed door in the manager’s office about an hour before the Brewers-Pirates series finale.
“Just like I said [Tuesday night], he’s done this a lot and he hasn’t survived this long without making the adjustments,” Macha said. “You have to, as a manager, respect the accomplishments that he’s had. Here again, it’s, how much rope does the guy get?”
Does Macha have that answer?
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Macha said.
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