Carlos Villanueva was optioned to Nashville Wednesday afternoon to make room for LaTroy Hawkins, just hours after surrendering five runs in one inning of work against the Reds (h/t Adam McCalvy). Four of those five runs came when Brandon Phillips launched what has to be one of the longest home runs in Miller Park history, an estimated 480-foot grand slam that actually landed in Bernie Brewer’s slide.
This move is a little unexpected, but not because of who’s going down to make room for Hawkins. Even before this blowup, Villanueva was probably one of the top candidates to get demoted — he’s one of three arms in the bullpen with options left, and the other two (John Axford and Zach Braddock) aren’t going anywhere.
What’s unexpected is the fact that this happened so quickly. Hawkins wasn’t expected to be back on the roster until about Saturday, just in case the Brewers wanted to create room for him by making a trade. While trading a reliever is still a possibility, it became pretty clear during the Cincinnati series that the bullpen was thin and overworked. A fresh arm was needed, and fast.
Some people may groan about Hawkins replacing Villanueva, but I want to take this opportunity to reiterate that contrary to popular belief, Hawkins was not a horrible failure. He was a victim of bad defense and overuse.
Despite the 9.26 ERA, his FIP was 3.45. He had a K/9 of 11.57. He drastically cut down his HR/FB ratio compared to past seasons. He was inducing more groundballs. Those groundballs were just finding their way through at an astronomically high clip (.421 BABIP) because of horrible defense.
When you look at the game log, the vast majority of the damage to his stats were done in a handful of outings.
He was flat out dominant in his first four outings — six strikeouts in 3.1 IP — before Ken Macha inexpicably left him in against the Cubs for 40 pitches when he clearly wasn’t sharp. The results were predictable — two walks, three hits, four runs, one loss. Just two days later, Macha ran Hawkins out there again against the Nationals. He threw 22 pitches and didn’t walk anyone, but was beat up for three hits and three runs, despite forcing four ground balls in the inning.
After that outing, Hawkins was given more rest and returned to his early-season form, allowing just one run in his next six innings. He didn’t have another blowup until May 6, when he gave up the walkoff grand slam to Andre Ethier and was pretty clearly hurting.
He had 13 appearances before landing on the disabled list. He allowed 12 earned runs. All but one of those runs came in just three outings. Nine of those 13 total appearances were scoreless.
LaTroy Hawkins does not blow. He’s actually pretty damn good. How about we stop saying this was another failed free agent signing?