At this site (and plenty of others) talk about the Brewers constantly shifts to talk about Ned Yost. There are plenty of us who have had our issues with Ned in the past, and I have no doubt he'll continue to give us plenty of fodder in 2008.
But, surprised as I am to say it, I'm a Ned fan right now. It's tough to know just how much of any decision should be credited to Ned or to the front office, but at the very least, there are a handful of things that Ned hasn't screwed up.
- Pitcher batting eighth. Since we've been talking about it for weeks, it's easy to lose sight of just how big this is. I don't mean big in terms of won-loss implications--I know that swapping two guys in the batting order isn't going to make a huge difference. But this is a very gutsy thing, and it's going to lead to plenty of questions in the press. (It sounds like Jim Powell, for one, brings it up constantly.) Managers have done it before, but if Ned does this for the entire season...well, hats off to him.
- Playing the best eight. I heard plenty of complaints earlier in the week when Gabe Kapler got a start the day after Tony Gwynn turned in his opening day heroics. One game does not a superstar make. Neither Gwynn or Kapler should be a major league starter, but platooning them does make the combination more credible. Ned didn't play the hot hand: he stuck with the plan. Further, we haven't seen a start from Counsell yet. I'm sure we will, and the occasional one is okay, but I'm always worried that a cold streak from Rickie or Bill Hall will lead to 3 Counsell starts per week.
- Bullpen management. We haven't seen a lot of issues yet, but so far, so good. This is probably more about Doug Melvin than anything else, but regardless of who to credit, it looks good. For now, I'll trust that using Riske for two innings was simply a matter of capitalizing on somebody with good stuff--not a danger sign that Riske will be overused. We haven't seen Shouse face a righty yet, either. (Granted, we haven't seen Shouse at all.)
- Cutting Vargas. I published a little diatribe back when Ned was talking about "maintaining the depth." In short, that was a way of defending himself for keeping Vargas even if Claudio wasn't one of the best options. Well, as it turned out, Ned and/or the brain trust made a gutsy decision. It saved a few bucks, but not enough for that to be the main factor. It's possible we'll have a rotation at some point with Villanueva, Parra, and Gallardo--three youngsters, two of whom could easily have been demoted or sent to the 'pen in favor of a decidedly mediocre veteran. I don't even feel that strongly about cutting Vargas; what impresses me is the fact that a contending team made the call to go with youth over more of a "known quantity." It might backfire, but it might also be the difference between 88 wins and 85 wins.
- Dave Bush today. Judging from the comments in the game thread, many of you think Bush should have been pulled earlier--maybe as early as the 4th inning. You might be right. But there are a lot of reasons you might be wrong. First off, we've got two games coming right up with two young starters. I wouldn't want to use the 'pen for 5+ innings if I didn't have to. Second, there's no guarantee McClung (especially if he had to go all the way through the order, maybe even more) would be better than an off-his-game Bush. We've also seen plenty of outings in the past when Bush got it together after a rough inning or two. The decision didn't pan out all that great today, but I'm a firm believer in sticking with the horse you rode in on (to a certain point, anyway). When evaluating managerial decisions during a game, it's easy to confuse action with effectiveness--any manager can emulate Tony LaRussa and make move after move after move. But sometimes the most effective move is the one you didn't make. It may even turn out that leaving Bush in was a good call today if we end up needing a lot of innings from the bullpen this weekend.
Of course, I reserve the right to get seethingly angry with Ned in tomorrow's game. But for now, it looks to me like we have downright decent skipper.