NEW YORK -- Houston Astros manager AJ Hinch had not formulated his full pitching plan for Game 6 of the American League Championship Series when he sat at the podium for his postgame news conference Friday night. But he did shed light on the pitcher everyone was wondering about: Ace Gerrit Cole will not start Saturday, meaning Game 6 will be a bullpen game.
New York dinged Houston's Justin Verlander for four runs in the first inning Friday and made them stand up in a 4-1 victory in Game 5 at Yankee Stadium, keeping its season alive. The Astros lead the ALCS 3-2.
The win sent both teams back to Houston for a quick-turnaround game made necessary by a rainout Wednesday. Neither manager discussed a possible Game 6 pitching plan until after the contest, and even then, both said their full strategies were unsettled. However, Hinch said Cole, his Cy Young candidate who has not lost a start since May 22, will not get the call in what would have been his first career start on three days' rest.
Asked whether he knew who would start in Game 6, Hinch said, "No, we'll talk about it on the plane ride home." Asked for more detail, Hinch clarified that it would be a bullpen game and that Cole would not start.
"I said it would be a bullpen game tomorrow, and I'm unlikely to use Cole, correct," Hinch said, in uncharacteristically brief comments.
Meanwhile, Boone also didn't know the identity of his Game 6 starter, but he does know Severino will go in Game 7 if the Yankees win Saturday.
"Sevey will start in Game 7," Boone said.
Both managers will in effect be choosing an extra day of rest for their next starter over an aggressive decision to tab one to pitch on short rest Saturday.
The managers had announced plans to use a bullpen day in Game 4, originally scheduled for Wednesday. The game was postponed until Thursday, pushing Game 5 to Friday, which was originally slotted to be a travel day. Hinch alluded to the possibility of using rookie Jose Urquidy in Game 4 and even the possibility that the bullpen outing for the hard-throwing right-hander could become something more like a start.
"I may say I'm doing a bullpen game, and Urquidy goes out there at some point during the game and I give him five or six innings," Hinch said earlier in the week. "I'm not sure that [bullpen game label] would really apply. At the same time, [my] hope is I wouldn't have to use nine pitchers. That's not often ideal, because what if the game goes 10, 11, 12, 13 innings. Unexpected things happen in regular games, let alone bullpen games."
In addition to Urquidy, Hinch has Brad Peacock in his ALCS bullpen. Peacock was used as both a starter and a reliever during the regular season. He appeared in Friday's game, throwing one inning and eight pitches in relief of Verlander. Peacock was the only reliever Hinch used, so the manager will enter Saturday's game with a fully rested bullpen.
While Boone's relievers didn't carry as heavy a load as usual Friday, a number of his relievers have appeared in multiple games during the series. However, Boone did not use key relievers Adam Ottavino or Chad Green in Game 5, while lefty Zack Britton was the only New York reliever to reach double digits with his pitch count (18).
"We'll just do our best to piece it together," Boone said.
Cole shut out the Yankees over seven innings in the Astros' Game 3 win Tuesday, a game in which he outpitched Severino. Hinch's decision on whether to start Cole on short rest was not clear-cut, but it's likely that Houston's lead in the series made the possibility of a bullpen game more palatable.
The Astros, with the strong starting trio of Verlander, Cole and Zack Greinke, have used a traditional pitching approach during the postseason so far. The Yankees, on the other hand, have relied heavily on the bullpen all season and through the playoffs.
New York entered the game with 51% of its innings this postseason coming from the bullpen. Only one team (the 1984 Padres) has made the World Series with its relievers handling at least half the workload.
Ironically, on the eve of a rare full-fledged bullpen day between two teams in a high-stakes series, Yankees relievers threw just 35 pitches Friday, their lowest total in October.