Verlander aside, today's pitchers never pushed


During the past week or so, two high school pitching prospects in Louisiana combined to throw 347 pitches in an extra-inning game and Detroit's Justin Verlander threw 131 in a complete game, which today is more rare than a Buffalo nickel. (Yeah, I know, it was against Kansas City.)

And outrage and incredulity was expressed over these feats.

Baseball sure was a lot different during President Kennedy and Bobby Darin's day. (Gas was cheaper, too.)

On July 2, 1963, San Francisco's Juan Marichal squared off against Milwaukee's Warren Spahn in the mother of all pitching duels. When it ended in the 16th inning, they still were throwing strikes. And this was when players did jumping jacks with a beer in one hand and a cigar in the other.

And Spahn was 42.

In those days, ballgames that didn't go extra innings were finished in around two hours, 1:50 if Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax were pitching.

So, do the events of the past week or so suggest a return to an era when a quality start meant you pitched all nine innings? And won?

Probably not.

It's not that baseball isn't willing to change, because if that were the case, the ballparks still would look like giant cereal bowls and the Houston Astros still would be wearing those jerseys that caused Roger Metzger, Enos Cabell, Denny Walling, Rafael Landestoy and Joaquin Andujar to go blind.

It's that baseball doesn't change quickly. And it probably won't be reconsidering this 100-pitch ceiling on starting pitchers, because ballclubs invest lots of money in starting pitchers, and should one tweak his elbow on pitch 111, there would be hell and a big guaranteed contract to pay, considering two guys were warming up in the bullpen.

Jerry Reuss, the longtime Las Vegan who won 220 games in the big leagues and pitched until he was 41, said 100 pitches in his day - 1969 to 1990 - was just getting warmed up.

In his first start after getting out of the U.S. Army, Reuss pitched 11 innings in a Triple-A game for Tulsa and got a no-decision. With Pittsburgh in 1974, he went 13 innings against the Cardinals.

"I pitched in games that would have gotten the farm director, the manager and the pitching coach fired," Reuss said, adding that only rudimentary pitch counts were kept and they had little impact on whether a guy stayed in the game.

I am not a doctor, have not played one on TV and, on a sports writer's salary, prefer Motel 6 to Holiday Inn Express. But if pitchers began to go seven and eight innings again, their arms probably would get stronger over time. And before long, like Marichal and Spahn, they could pitch until the cows or the man on first came home in extra innings.

But more quality starts mean fewer trips to the mound, and fewer pitching changes mean shorter games, and shorter games mean fewer $8 beers being sold in the bleachers and fewer Budweiser ads on TV. So change will come slowly, if at all.

(Eight other games were played in the majors on July 2, 1963, four of which were played in 2:00, 1:48, 2:07 and 2:19. The next day, a game in Los Angeles took 1:53. The starting pitchers were Gibson and Koufax.)

My other theories regarding today's pitchers is that they are pansies, or that Verlander's real name is Tony Stark and that he's Ironman.

"When you get young kids, they are still developing. You want to protect their arms," said 51s pitching coach Bob Stanley, who during 13 seasons as a relief ace in Boston pretty much pitched when and as long as Don Zimmer and Ralph Houk and John McNamara and Joe Morgan needed him to pitch. "When you get to this level, it's a little bit different. They're veterans who have done it before."

And yet only twice during April has a Las Vegas starter tossed as many as 90 pitches toward home plate. Tim Redding threw 93 - in 3 2/3 innings - against Sacramento on April 8, and Jesse Chavez threw 90 against Colorado Springs on Sunday.

"The theory is you want to save kids' arms because they've probably been abused in college and in high school," Stanley said. "I know one time I had a guy who threw 180 pitches in one game."

Might have been Spahnie's kid.

The game, and pitching philosophy, has changed dramatically. Today, unless a guy is working on a no-hitter or answers to Verlander, medical science all but assures he won't finish what he started.

They didn't have medical science in Stanley's day, because it only would have gotten in the way of the beer and the cigars in the clubhouse. But he said there was an even more effective method for determining when a pitcher had had enough.

"The hitters would let you know when you were done," Stanley said.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

 

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