SOME REVOLUTIONS begin quietly, a few individuals seeking change in a back room as opposed to thousands marching on a palace. A month ago, Nolan Ryan, president of the Texas Rangers, sent a directive to the entire organization, banning use of pitch counts as a way to regulate how deep starting pitchers went in games.
Citizen Ryan, who did a little pitching in his time, among other things, said this:
"We're going to stop using five or more pitchers to play an American League game."
Pitching coaches love The Count because it gives them something to do with their thumbs beside husking sunflower seeds and clicking a stopwatch to time a pitcher's stretch move to the plate. And it is a lot easier to tell a pitcher endangering the outfield customers, "Sorry, Ace, you're at a hundred," than the classic Tommy Lasorda World Series rejoinder upon being told by pleading lefthander Doug Rau that the next hitter is lefthanded, "I don't give a bleep, Dougie, you just gave up three straight bleeping hits to bleeping lefthanders."
Actually, half the people in the ballpark are keeping the pitch count. No need for the coach to bother when you can log on to MLB.com and get a running pitch count for every game in progress.
The PC is no longer a stat, it's an obsession.
And Citizen Ryan, who one season threw 5,684 pitches in 333 innings pitched, is doing something about it. By the way, the season was 1974, when Ryan was 22-16 for the Angels, leading the American League with 202 walks and 367 strikeouts. He averaged 135 pitches for 41 starts. That insane workload ravaged his arm so severely his career only lasted 19 more seasons. Ryan was still throwing in the 90s when he finally retired at age 46.
He will expect Rangers pitchers to become more fit, to make stamina and mechanical correctness the new balance point of their careers, not a half-baked theory based on absolutely zero empiric evidence that throwing fewer pitches on a given day somehow will reduce arm injuries. It is the only athletic endeavor where a pitcher does less to prepare for his event - think the ubiquitous between starts bullpen sessions - than he will do in the game itself. Imagine Andy Reid pulling Donovan McNabb when he reaches 25 attempts or a boxing trainer throwing in the towel when a fighter absorbs his 50th punch.
Pitching is an activity for the strong and durable of arm, not the weak and fragile. And when you see Brett Myers possibly kiss the bulk of his season goodbye with the new designer injury - the frayed labrum - Ryan's push for better conditioning takes on a little more urgency. Put some of the blame on Brett's skewed mechanics.
In case you're wondering what the emerging new breed of pitching is all about, look no farther than long-striding Giants phenom Tim Lincecum, who at 5-11, 170 can deal 95-98 heat all day, wrapping his fastball around a Brad Lidge slider and Cole Hamels change. It is fashionable to call Lincecum "The Freak" because he can twist himself into a pretzel and do backflips. But his "momentum" mechanics are attainable by any pitcher who cares to investigate a delivery change that maximizes arm speed and minimizes strain on the arm. Lidge himself uses a long-striding, less-contorted, version of Lincecum's, his also built around a long-striding, explosive push off the rubber and smooth acceleration of the delivery from relatively low-kicking body turn to dynamic finish. But it's hard to keep in synch with an achy push off and landing knee. Other momentum deliveries to watch include Kansas City's "Game Over" Zack Greinke, Yankees righthander Joba Chamberlain and San Diego State's soon-to-be-No. 1 draftee Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg has been clocked at 103 mph and has a 17-strikeout no-hitter on his 2009 resume.
I recently tracked 14 top Phillies minor league pitching prospects from Triple A Lehigh Valley down to Low A Lakewood. It is possible to conclude that the organization continues to develop starting pitchers built for the short haul. Most will never develop the bulldog toughness that once defined a great starting pitcher, a Ryan, Seaver, Gibson, Koufax, Carlton, Marichal and, yes, a throwback named Curt Schilling. Schill could be last-of-breed - unless Nolan Ryan can toss a grenade powerful enough to blow up the clickers and torch the count charts.
The Phillies pitchers are Carlos Carrasco (0-6, 5.81), Kyle Kendrick (4-3, 4.25) and Andrew Carpenter (2-0, 3.61) at Lehigh Valley; Vance Worley (4-2, 2.83), Joe Savery (4-1, 3.49) and Michael Stutes (3-1, 4.00) at Reading; Kyle Drabek (3-1, 2.91), Yohan Flande (5-1, 3.38), Drew Naylor (2-5, 5.52) and Julian Sampson (1-4, 7.36) at Clearwater; Heitor Correa (1-1, 2.40), Tyler Cloyd (4-2, 3.14), Jason Knapp (2-4, 4.86) and Jesus Sanchez (1-4, 5.18) at Lakewood.
Not counting their most recent outings, this prospect group has averaged 5.5 innings per start. None averages 7 IP per appearance. The Iron Men are Cloyd and Worley at 6.34.
Cole Hamels was Charlie Manuel's Rock of Gibralter last season. By the end of the World Series, his 262.1 IP led MLB. This year he has averaged 5.2 innings for eight starts. Brett Myers, with 6.3, is the only starter who sees much of a seventh inning.
Nolan Ryan is weary of seeing innings taken away from the best pitchers in the game and handed to guys who in his time would have performed mop-up duty.
Good for Citizen Ryan. Long live the Revolution of the Throwletariat. *
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