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Savran: Rest when weary, but not for streak

Saturday, May 31, 2003

It's true. Those of us peeking into the Pirates' clubhouse from the outside don't always see the big picture. But then sometimes, those on the inside looking out don't always see the forest for the trees.

I fully understand the need to rest certain players, especially those long of tooth.

Those players on the dark side of 30 will look decidedly older when the season turns from sprint to marathon ... especially a guy such as Kenny Lofton, whose legs are his calling card.

Plus, there's a secondary benefit. If you expect to get any production from your bench -- it's still a team game -- you have to get those guys some live at-bats against real major-league pitchers, not just in the batting cage against the bullpen coach.

A manager has to look at an entire season, not just in single-game increments of today or tomorrow.

For the fans, there's never a good time to do it.

They buy a ticket to a game, they want to see the best players play. And they want to see their team have the best opportunity to win which, presumably, means playing the best players, or what passes for them, anyway.

However, baseball imitates life. It's fluid. You can make any number of hard and fast plans, but sometimes circumstances dictate adjustments.

Kenny Lofton turned 36 today. Happy birthday, Kenny!

I'd like to trade ages with him, but his 36 in baseball years is the equivalent of my age in sportscaster years.

Lofton needs time off, of that there is no doubt. But it's not the if, it's the when.

You can look ahead at June's schedule in May and decide when you'd like to rest him, but you also have to be flexible and consider the ever-changing circumstances.

Such as Matt Stairs being on the disabled list, and Reggie Sanders being unavailable. And the fact Lofton has been your best hitter for a month.

There's absolutely no guarantee victory would have been rescued from the jaws of defeat had Lofton played Wednesday in Chicago. But Thursday was a scheduled day off.

So is Monday.

Giving him two days off out of five should have been sufficient.

And if two consecutive days of rest was the issue, why not wait until Friday or Sunday, when Sanders is supposed to be ready, and when Jack Wilson is back at shortstop, which deepens the bench?

Again, I'm not disputing that Lofton, or any of the baseball elderly needs the rest, it's when they should be rested.

But let's put all that aside.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, we're all OK with Lloyd McClendon granting Lofton's request to be rested Wednesday.

Does that mean the guy doesn't even come to the ballpark?

Does that mean you send him to a resort in Cancun for full R&R?

Does that mean you have to play that game with 24 players, that rest means total rest, and that under no circumstances will you use him?

Certainly pinch-hitting is a stressful assignment, but I'm sure Lofton could have found a way to avoid a mental breakdown had he been called upon to bat for Abraham Nunez in the ninth inning Wednesday.

Certainly, they could have wheeled him up to home plate on a hospital gurney to rest those tired legs. And had he produced a tying hit, I suspect he could somehow have managed to crawl the 90 feet from home to first.

Speaking of managing, McClendon -- assuming he was still calling the shots after being ejected -- could easily have covered himself defensively in the bottom of the ninth by moving Jeff Reboulet to shortstop, Rob Mackowiak to second, and putting Lofton in center.

Maybe he didn't want to play Lofton in the field in case the game went extra innings.

Well if it did, then give him the first game in St. Louis off, or the first two if that's the concern. Plus, he still had Adam Hyzdu available if playing Lofton in the field was such a big problem.

Tie the game first! Worry about whatever later, for crying out loud!

And please, puh-lese, don't tell me this was about protecting Lofton's hitting streak.

I'm beggin' ya Mac, please don't tell me that had anything to do with it. Unless he's about to tie Joe DiMaggio, or it's September 30th and you're 30 games out of first, that absolutely cannot be a consideration.

This team doesn't get all that close to winning all that often. When they do, they've got to do all they can with the best they have to win.

Shortsighted? One game in May? I don't think so.

I can see the big picture, but I also know it takes thousands of little brush strokes to paint it.

Stan Savran is the host of a sports talk show from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays on WBGG-AM (970).

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