Tues. night, bottom of the sixth, Phils up 4-3 at the time. Kendrick has made it out of the top of the sixth with the lead and he's due up second. Carlos Ruiz manages to reach base. Now what do you do? Kendrick's probably done no matter what happens, because it's after an off day and the bullpen is all set to go JC, Flash, Lidge.
We could save a bench player for later, in what looks to stay a close game, and have Kendrick bunt Ruiz over. But here's the thing: Kendrick is, like all Phillies pitchers younger than 45, a terrible bunter. And it's only a one-run lead and we need to increase it, with nine outs to go and the bullpen not likely to be perfect forever. And a pinch hitter is more likely to be able to swing away if that becomes necessary.
But here's another thing: we're confident we don't need to change up plans and have the hitter swing away. Even if Ruiz moves up to second on a PB or something, there's still none out and the best move with the nine hole is to bunt him to third. With a strong bullpen due up, stretching a one-run lead to two by playing for one run is a pretty good move with your nine-hole hitter, and as long as you're going to bunt for sure, why not use the pitcher?
Because he's a terrible bunter. We can't be taking gambles with the thinnest possible lead and a long way to go in the game - we need someone we're confident can get the bunt down.
But here's one other thing: Kendrick's not going to get better at bunting unless he practices bunting. He's got to get up there in game situations and work at it, so that maybe when it really, really counts in late September he'll be competent at it. And no, this isn't a safe time like a ten-run lead, but bunting with a ten-run lead is bad baseball manners anyway. Saving the pinch hitter for later, letting Kendrick give it a try when there's none out and you're leading with your bullpen set up might be the right move.
Is it? I can't quite decide. I think the answer is, no, you can't gamble with a one-run lead; if Kendrick's not pitching the seventh, you need a sure bunter up there. You don't save bench players - at least, not when you've still got a full bench - for later when you'e got a clear use for them now. But I'm not sure about this. Because the Phils pitchers have to, have to, have to get better at bunting somehow, just like Utley had to hit lefties poorly for a while to figure them out.
As it happens, we sent up Taguchi and he laid down an acceptable, albeit not great, bunt. But I have a thought: maybe we don't burn Taguchi there. Maybe we send up someone else to bunt, someone who's shown he's good at it. Someone who's old enough to be Kendrick's daddy. Yeah, that's right: pinch hitter Jamie Moyer.