I know there’s a lot of topics I should cover since we last spoke, but first things first. 129 pitches? Really?
Even before the season began I was a little worried that Trey Hillman might bring with him, of all the philosophical differences between Japanese and American baseball, the one Japanese viewpoint that I disagree the most vehemently with: the cavalier attitude towards pitcher workloads. We’ve all heard the stories of how Daisuke Matsuzaka threw 250 pitches in leading his high school team to the Koshien championship, or how Matsuzaka and many other Japanese starters would be pulled from the game after throwing 140 pitches, only to go throw another
I’d like to think we’re a little more enlightened over here. We didn’t treat our pitchers that way when Hillman left for
Last year, it was zero.
Now, I’m not saying that a pitcher should never throw more than 130 pitches in a game, and frankly I’m surprised the pendulum has swung as far as it has the other way. A veteran pitcher, in a pennant race, in a tight game, with a shaky or overworked bullpen…there’s definitely a time and a place for 130+ pitches.
But in April? For a team that (realistically speaking) is unlikely to contend? It’s telling that, as David Boyce pointed out in the Star today, Meche had the highest pitch count of any Royals pitcher since
That pitcher was Chad Durbin, who threw a complete game that day even though the Royals led 9-2 going into the ninth. Ah, the genius of Tony Muser. (The game I remember more than that one was the game on June 2nd, when Durbin was sent out to pitch the 8th in a 2-2 tie and gave up a single, a walk, and finally the deciding single on his 132nd and final pitch. What made that game so memorable was that the entire inning Denny Matthews was telling us how tired Durbin looked on the mound, how he was, in Denny’s words, “really fighting it.” Our radio announcer was a far better judge of pitcher fatigue than our manager, which summed the Royals up pretty well.)
It’s not a coincidence that Durbin, who was a well-regarded prospect and was in the Royals rotation at the age of 22, blew out his arm the next spring and took six years to re-emerge last season as a competent swingman. Now, Durbin probably never would have become anything more than a league-average innings-muncher even had he never been hurt. Jose Rosado, on the other hand, was a two-time All-Star by the time he was 24 when he was allowed to throw 120 pitches seven times in eight starts in the summer of 1999. When that streak started, Rosado had a 2.80 ERA in 15 starts; he would post a 4.71 ERA the rest of the season.
The next season he would gut out five starts in April despite pain in his shoulder; the Royals claimed they were monitoring it but refused to get an MRI (hey, they cost almost two grand a pop!) until, after his fifth start – which he won – the pain was so excruciating that he could not bear it any more. The MRI showed that he had basically destroyed his shoulder. He never threw another pitch in the majors.
So pardon us if we’re a little paranoid about the care of our starting pitchers, particularly one who is under contract for $11 million a year from now through 2011. Yes, I realize they do things a little different along the
I realize I'm one of the leaders of the pitch count revolution, given that I've been writing about the subject for almost ten years. But I’m really not that concerned about one start, Trey. Meche is 29; his arm is fully-developed. He hasn’t had any major injury issues in six years. The Royals had a day off yesterday, so presumably he’ll get an extra day of rest before his next start. He had only thrown 83 pitches his last time out. Nunez and Soria had both pitched three days in a row, Ramirez had thrown two of the last three days, so maybe you asked Meche to gut it out in a close game rather than leave the game up to the bottom-feeders in the bullpen.
If that’s your rationale, I’m fine with it. If 129 pitches represents the rare confluence of a number of unusual factors, an anomaly that’s unlikely to be repeated any time soon, then I’m cool.
But I don’t know that for sure. (And my friends at the Star have not, to this point, asked you about it.) All I know is that, less than a month into your managerial career in North America, you let one of your most valuable commodities throw 129 pitches in an April game, the most pitches thrown by a starter in April since Curt Schilling threw 133 on April 25th, 2006. If you’re willing to do that in April, when most pitchers are still stretching out their arms and haven’t hit their mid-season stride, what are you going to do in July?