Relief, in More Ways Than One
Well, the past couple of days have been, shall we say, eventful. As they have been for me. So expect to read a lot today.
Item number one is obviously CC Sabathia’s injury. The preliminary diagnosis is a strained bicep muscle. Trust me, that’s good news if that’s all it is. Immediately after hearing that CC was not only pulled because of injury, but that it was more specifically a “sore shoulder”, I immediately thought of the worst. A rotator cuff injury would sidetrack CC for a extended amount of time, and a torn labrum is just about as bad as a gets for a pitcher. Now that Tommy John surgery (elbow ligament replacement) is so common, the shoulder injury is the final frontier for pitchers. Because the shoulder is such a complex joint, an injury to the labrum could mean permanent damage to the arm, and could effectively end a pitcher’s career. So I am definitely relieved to hear that it’s a muscle injury instead. Hopefully the Indians (and they have so far) play it conservatively with CC and allow him to rest until it’s fully healed, because a lot of times a player will get injured a second time because they compensated for a previous lingering injury.
Now, onto the Jake Westbrook dilemma.
On Monday night, Jeff D’Amico (who ironically pitched well on Thursday in a role reversal) got shelled for four runs before a lengthy rain delay. Eric Wedge then brought in Jake Westbrook to try to eat up a couple of innings. And eat them he did; he threw seven perfect innings, throwing a little over 80 pitches. Wedge did not send him out for an eighth inning, instead bringing out Rafael Betancourt, the team’s best reliever this year in a tie game, who promptly gave up a three-run homer. Game over.
Almost immediately the fans started to slam Wedge on taking out Westbrook. He had only thrown a little over 80 pitches, and was throwing a perfect game, they said. Why take him out?
I don’t agree with everything Wedge does (or every other manager in baseball), but Wedge was absolutely right in pulling him. Here’s why:
1) Westbrook has a history of arm injuries. In 2002 he had elbow surgery (ulnar nerve, bone spurs), and practically missed the entire season. He attempted a comeback late in the year, but was shut down in August because of elbow soreness.
2) Westbrook’s maximum pitch count this year was 75. Given that pitchers injure themselves more frequently when tired, he would have been at a greater risk to re-injuring his elbow. Pitch counts are not unto themselves a preventive measure; they are simply a tool for a manager to gauge how tired a pitcher is. If a pitcher is normally accustomed to throwing 95-100 pitches in a start, throwing 120 pitches in a game probably indicates that he threw 15-20 pitches tired. Not good. How do you prevent this? I’m no pitching coach, but normally a pitcher is gradually stretched out so that he can manage whatever pitch count the team feels necessary to throw. So in his next outing, Westbrook should be able to go 85 pitches comfortably. Yes, you can bring up pitchers 30-50 years ago, but the fact is that this is not the 1960s, and it probably will never be. Going “old school” is not an option in today’s game, where pitchers simply aren’t programmed to throw that many pitches or innings.
3) Rafael Betancourt was the best reliever in the bullpen, and it’s a tie game. My assumption was that Betancourt pitches the eighth, and Riske the ninth, giving the Indians two innings to get one run. It didn’t work; Betancourt didn’t do his job. Had he done his job and the Indians score in the 8th or 9th, no one would have praised Wedge for the move. Why? Because they would have done their jobs.
Wedge could have gone Dusty Baker and thrown Westbrook out there until the game was over. But what then if, because of the stress those last two innings caused him, he re-injures his elbow and is out an entire year? Then you lose Sunday’s starter (he’ll take the place of Jason Stanford, who’s on the DL), and lose his services for the entire year.
Baseball is a game of risk management, both on the field and off. You choose situations where there is the least risk of things going wrong. Yes, managers sometimes go with their ‘gut’, and sometimes they are right. But show me a manager who goes with his gut on every decision, eschewing the data available to him, and I’ll show you a manager who’s unemployed. Especially when it comes to injuring pitchers arms.
The Bullpen Merry-Go-Round
Jason Stanford, although his forearm injury wasn’t that serious, was DLed anyways in order for the Indians to bring up some more arms for the bullpen. Jeriome Robertson, who was acquired this spring in order to provide depth, is now doing so. For now, he’ll probably take over for Jake Westbrook as the longman, and possibly make a spot start here and there. The rotation is all mucked up thanks to bad performances (D’Amico, Durbin) and injuries (Sabathia), so he might be starting this week sometime, or at least until the rotation gets reorganized.
Jose Jimenez is also on the DL. Hopefully his obscure muscle injury was the cause of his dramatic drop in velocity, but I’m not real hopeful. David “Assignable” Lee was brought up in his stead. He’ll serve as the mopup pitcher, and will probably be gone in a couple of weeks, until the next fungible arm is decided on.
Couple Guys to Watch
OF Ryan Goleski. He’s mashing the ball in Lake County (.367/.426/.735). Not bad for a 24th round pick.
C Ryan Garko. Also mashing, though a bit more impressive because it’s in Kinston (.429/.478/.690). I doubt seriously he’ll stick at catcher, but teams found places for Craig Wilson and Matt LeCroy.
SP Adam Miller. As a rule, I try to temper any enthusiasm for pitchers below AA, because of the inherent risk you take with young pitching, but I can’t ignore 21 SO in 16 innings. Plus he’s only allowed 2 walks and 5 hits. He also doesn’t turn 20 until after the season.
One Last Thing
I’ve changed my e-mail address to email@example.com. So please address any correspondence there from now on