March 9, 2010
Ive loved Nolan Ryan for a variety of reasons over the past 25 years, first awed by his dominance, then wowed by his work ethic, and now thankful for his role in trying to reverse a not-so-recent trend in baseball that must make the big, tough Texan puke in his mouth a little every time he thinks about it.Nobodys sure exactly when it started or why it became so widespread, but for years and years now, strong and gifted young pitchers have been treated like Faberge eggs.Sitting across from me late last season, at a table in the press dining area at the Launching Pad in Arlington, the Ryan Express considered my question -- and yes, I fumbled it like a trembling 10-year-old boy hanging out with his idol -- about the concept of a six-man starting rotation and spat out his answer like an over-ripe wad of Redman Chew.Used to be people thought maybe four starters was too much, he said in his cooler-than-cool drawl after taking a pull on his iced tea. Now five aint enough? Its gettin kinda disgustin the way the game babies these kids.Couldnt agree more.
Most big-league throwing programs are now capped in terms of time (10-15 minutes) and distance (120-150 feet), when the best thing for an arms development is actually to throw more and longer. Like, out to 300 feet and until the arm gets tired.Pitch counts are so meticulously kept and adhered to these days that youd think any pitcher allowed to throw up to -- gasp! -- 110 pitches in a game is all but certain to explode right there on the mound upon delivery of No. 111.Its all based on money and fear, and its ridiculous -- as is the idea of a six-man rotation, which is nothing more than a cop-out.
For example, the As opened spring training last month with four starting pitchers assured of jobs -- Ben Sheets, Justin Duchscherer, Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden -- and three vying for the No. 5. spot.Among the candidates to fill the back end in Oakland -- Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Vin Mazzaro -- only Cahill, who made his debut at age 21 last year, has a full season of big-league experience. Mazzaro is 23, Gonzalez 24.These being the As, though, theyre already down one starter. Its what the As have done best over the past three years -- lose players to injury. Its Duchscherers turn again, having been felled by back issues 34 seconds into camp, and while he insists hell be ready for Opening Day, his manager begs to differ.And the GM is one of the managers best friends. Guess whos going to win that one?So now there are six As starters expected to be ready to roll in early April. One of them, Sheets, has a long recent injury history. Another, Braden, is coming off a season cut short by a foot injury. Two of them, Gonzalez and Mazzaro, have yet to pitch more than 98 innings in a big-league season. The other two, Anderson and Cahill, are 22 years old. Perfect team to go with a six-man rotation, right? Lighten the load. Ease the pressure.No, no and no.If you need your load lightened, you dont belong in the big leagues. Ditto the pressure thing. And remember, these are the As. Good chance another one of these guys is going to get hurt.Then what? Go back to a five-man and immediately change the routine of every starter, or dip into Triple-A for the River Cats top starter and change his routine?The answer is neither. But dont take my word for it. Take Nolan Ryans word for it, and one word is all he needed to encapsulate his thoughts on a six-man rotation.His eyes narrowed. A dismissive smirk spread across his ranch-weathered mug. He spoke.Candy-ass.-- Mychael UrbanWhat's on your mind? Email Mychaeland let him know. He may use it in his weekly Mailbag.