Hey Willie! Free Wright!

There are still a few things about Willie Randolph’s managerial style that confuse — and frustrate — me. For one thing, I can’t understand why he’s so stubborn about batting Mike Piazza ahead of David Wright, yet Jose Reyes is entrenched at the top of the order.

At the end of spring training, Randolph batted David Wright eighth and said that could be Wright’s home for a while.

“You do have to pay your dues,” Randolph said, alluding to Wright’s status entering his first full season in the big leagues.

But then, Reyes didn’t have to pay any dues. I understand that Reyes has been in the big leagues for part of the last two seasons, but because of his injury history, it didn’t seem to me like he had fully paid all of his dues. Yet, despite just 13 walks all season and an on-base percentage under of .284 — barely higher than Willie’s career average. Randolph had a career OBP of .373. You’d think he’d understand how important it is. But then, it couldn’t have been much of a plan, because Wright hasn’t batted eighth all year. Randolph did say it “wasn’t set in stone.” Apparently, it was merely written in the sand. Right along the water. At low tide. Half an hour before high tide. Under a full moon. You see what I mean.

Still, Reyes continues to frustrate Randolph at times but holds onto his No. 1 spot in the batting order. Back before the All-Star break, when Reyes hit seventh in one game, I hoped it would last the week. It lasted one game.

As for Wright and Piazza, the young third baseman has put up offensive numbers as good as any third baseman in the league outside of Houston’s juicebox, but has found himself batting sixth or seventh in all but 16 of his team-high 90 games. Wright leads the team in average, is second in home runs and second in RBI. Looking back at Thursday’s first game of the second half, Wright drilled two solo home runs in his first two at bats off of Atlanta’s Horacio Ramirez — solo because he led off one inning after Piazza had ended the previous one with two runners on base, and the other because Piazza led off the inning by flying out. In his third at bat, he led off the seventh with a walk because a Piazza double play had ended the sixth. When Piazza came up in the eighth, my friends and I rooted for a strikeout when the count went to 0-2 so that Wright would have a chance with two runners on in a tie game, rather than a double play to end the inning. At least Piazza came through then.

Since that at bat? Piazza’s 0-for-9 with four strikeouts. The at bats — as well as Wright’s, batting behind Piazza — are as follows:

Friday, July 15 vs. Atlanta and John Smoltz
Struck out leading off the second. Wright homered.
Grounded out with one out in the fourth. Wright lined out to right.
Grounded out leading off the seventh. Wright walked.
Grounded into a double play in the ninth with the Braves ahead 2-1. Wright flied out to the warning track in right to end the game.

Sunday, July 17 vs. Atlanta and Mike Hampton
Struck out to end the first with a runner on second. Wright led off the second with a single.
Grounded out leading off the third. Wright singled to right.
Struck out to end the fourth with a runner on. Wright led off the fifth with a groundout to third.
Grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the sixth. Wright led off the seventh with a pop out.
Struck out with one out in the eighth. Wright popped out to end the inning.

In three games (13 at bats) since the start of the second half, Piazza has ended innings with runners on base five times, forcing Wright to lead off the following inning. Wright had two hits and one walk in three of those five at bats. There were another three times Piazza made an out ahead of a Wright single or walk, and one more in which Piazza got himself out with a runner on ahead of Wright (the double play in the ninth of the 2-1 game). In all, of 13 at bats, Piazza made an out ahead of a Wright hit or walk six times, and erased runners on base six times — though some of the at bats apply to both instances.

In the end, I think what bewilders me most about the intricacies of Randolph’s managing — and I do understand this is his first go at it — is how Reyes continues to lead off despite not getting the job done, and Piazza continues to hit fifth despite not getting the job done, yet Wright comes through time and again, yet his chances are watered down (read: come with fewer men on base) because Piazza’s making outs in front of him.

All Willie needs to do is look across town. There, his mentor, Joe Torre, has faced the harsh reality of pushing Bernie Williams down-down-down in the batting order because his bat has slowed and age has rendered him nothing like the player he once was. Williams is batting ninth tonight. Ninth! Piazza’s situation is the same, yet Randolph — who has no long-time allegiance to Piazza, so it’s not like writing his name in the fourth or fifth spot in the order is something he’s been doing for years and is second-nature to him — can’t seem to break free from the rut.

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