ST. PETERSBURG -- Are there situations that would compel Brewers manager Craig Counsell to order a sacrifice bunt from a position player?
"Yeah, there are," Counsell said. "That wasn't one of them."
To bunt or not to bunt? That was the debate after a Brewers rally fizzled in the top of the ninth inning and Steven Souza Jr.'s walk-off home run off Jacob Barnes gave the Rays a 2-1 win at Tropicana Field. The Brewers wasted Jimmy Nelson's eight-inning gem, and fans jumped on social media to blame the manager.
The situation: Tie game, top of the ninth, Brewers once again struggling to score runs. They have scored three or fewer runs in nine of their last 10 games including Sunday, squandering their best stretch of pitching all season. Since the Nationals played Home Run Derby at the Brewers' expense on July 28 in Washington, Brewers pitchers lead the Majors with a 1.87 ERA.
That backdrop matters to those who are pro-bunt. Eric Thames led off the ninth against a Rays reliever on a hot streak -- Tommy Hunter -- with a single to right field, and Hernan Perez followed by bunting for a single. Since Counsell rarely bunts position players, there is a high probability that Perez was bunting on his own.
With runners at first and second and no outs, to bunt or not to bunt?
Counsell opted against, and while he declined to air all of his reasons for that decision, believing it disadvantageous to air every detail, he was probably considering the following factors:
1. Manny Pina has one sacrifice bunt this season. He has 25 sac bunts in 12 seasons in the Minor Leagues. He is not asked often to bunt. He has an .835 OPS in high leverage situations, per Baseball Reference, and an .839 OPS with runners in scoring position.
2. Keon Broxton, with his team-high 37.9 percent strikeout percentage, was on deck.
3. Hunter is nasty. He throws a sinker up to 97 mph, a cutter and a curveball.
And forget Hunter for a moment. Pro-bunt arguments tend to take it as a given that the hitter would execute. Even though they work on it all year, one coach estimated that in reality, it's a 50-60 percent probability for a player rarely called upon to bunt.
So, Counsell did not signal for the bunt. Pina hit a first-pitch fastball hard -- 93.5 mph off the bat -- but right to Rays shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. He stepped on second base and threw to first for a double play. Broxton followed with a bounceout, stranding the go-ahead runner at third base.
"Manny hit the ball really hard," Counsell said. "I think they were holding Thames on [at second] almost; it didn't look like he was in a normal shortstop position. Manny drove the ball really good, just right at a guy who was holding the runner on."
Said Pina: "Nothing we can do. The best we can do is hit the ball well. After you hit it, you don't know. I thought that ball would go through. The shortstop was supposed to move because they think I would bunt, but he stayed there."