Friday, April 30, 2010

This Just In: Justin Verlander Thows a Lot of Pitches

I haven’t messed with a Lynn Henning article in a while. Here’s one on Justin Verlander’s high pitch counts. Let’s give it a go.

Arms are not the most interesting of a big-league pitcher's weapons.

Don’t believe him? Ask the folks that worked for Ugueth Urbina.

More absorbing are their brains, which is why it seemed important to visit Justin Verlander's locker in the Tigers clubhouse Wednesday.

“Justin! Lynn Henning from the News. I have important things to discuss. I notice your brain seems f-cked up on the mound. Care to comment?”

VERLANDER: (begins sharpening knives)

Just what word would he use to describe his feelings about pitch counts, which has become a thorny issue for the Tigers ace, given that too many pitches have led to too few innings for a 27-year-old strikeout machine?

I’m pretty sure that he would have liked to give you TWO words, Lynn.

What word would he use to summarize Verlander and the matter of pitch counts? Irked? Irritated? Fatigued?

Angry? Irate? Mad? Outraged? Cross? Incensed? Livid? Fuming? Annoyed? Infuriated? Aggravated? Weary? Exhausted? Pooped?

I don’t know about you, kids. But I’m on the edge of my seat for this one. If only I were allowed in THE CLUBHOUSE!

Or, in the case of a sports writer asking him about it for one too many times, maybe Verlander would prefer to use a different self-description: "homicidal."

Oh, in a perfect world, Mr. Henning. In a perfect world.

Happily, he said no to the last choice.


"If I could put one word to it," he said, thinking for a few long moments, "maybe overrated."

/counts words

That’s two.

I love you, Justin. As much as a heterosexual smartass can possibly love a baseball player. But methinks you might be right. You are a tad overrated.

Oh, you meant pitch counts are overrated? Please don’t kill me, good sir. Kill Henning! He started this!

The view isn't shared by Tigers manager Jim Leyland.

A few of Jim Leyland’s views:

-Smoking is good for you.
-Leaving your exhausted closer in a ballgame for several innings in the most important game of the season is a good idea.
-Clete Thomas should bat third in a major league baseball game.
-Don Kelly? He likes the cut of his jib.
-He’s often tickled by things.
-Hmmm…Brandon can’t take three steps without falling down and doing the Peter Griffin “ahhh, sssss, ahhh” thing. Let’s start him again.
-Ryan Raburn makes a good defensive substitution in the outfield.
-Need a starter…Brad Thomas. Bingo.

What I’m trying to say here is that Jim Leyland is batsh-t crazy and I’m getting sick of his views on things. Except for when he’s talking about Jason Grilli.

He's in charge of pitchers and their work loads.

Rick Knapp is only around to buy cigarettes and make sure Gerald Laird’s grandpa stays out of the player wives’ section at Comerica Park.

And because the Tigers have $80 million invested in their staff ace, and because the evidence is so persuasive too many pitches over too many innings is asking for arm trouble, Leyland is getting tough, even if he's a bit of a skeptic.

What’s to be skeptical about? Being at 130 pitches in the 5th inning in every outing is not a good idea. No one does this every start. Except Verlander. Eventually that arm is going to explode like it is Carlos Guillen’s leg when he moves faster than a jog.

He will hold Verlander to a strict count, a number he won't publicly discuss, but one you can bet is south of 125.

Crap. Introducing your new closer: Justin Verlander!

"That's just the way it is," Leyland said, saying the undisclosed number is firm "whether it's the seventh, eighth, or fourth inning.

If JV could ever make it to the 7th or 8th inning in 2010, I don’t think we would be having this conversation.

"I'm not a big pitch-count guy," he added, "but it's not gonna happen on my watch."

Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Whose gonna do it? You? You, Henning? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Verlander, and you curse the coaching staff. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Verlander being pulled, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me in that dugout, you need me in that dugout. We use words like honor, code, loyalty…and yes, pitch count. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of professional baseball that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a baseball, and try to teach Bonderman a changeup. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to.

Verlander getting hurt, that is.

You can’t handle the truth, Henning! Okay, I’m done.

The Tigers are sticking by an organizational discipline when it comes to pitch counts, whether in the minors or in the majors, and in this view it's the only way to operate. For every Mickey Lolich, who's everyone's gold standard for pitching long innings on little rest, there are countless others whose names you don't know, or didn't get to know well, because they blew out their arms.

In a seedy hotel, somewhere in the Midwest, the homely prostitute long gone at this point, Matt Anderson sits in a bathtub rocking and sobbing quietly to himself.

Leyland acknowledges Verlander probably is a good candidate to do just that, if he's not watched carefully, "because when you throw the way he does, it takes a toll."

Joel Zumaya in a Gary Coleman voice: Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout, Mr. Leyland?

Verlander's not having an ace-like start to the season, which is hardly news. His record is 1-2 and his ERA is 5.53. More critically, he's started five games, averaging just more than five innings per outing.

Dombrowski facepalm. Willis, Bonderman, and Robertson taught you nothing. (I kid, I approved of the JV deal.)

This is where the tension surfaces.


Leyland's bullpen has been worn down in April.

…in the D. Dammit. I can’t stop now. And it’s still the Good Luck Joe’s in my head. They won't go away. I can’t sleep at night…

Relievers have been throwing almost as many innings as starters. That's disaster waiting to happen, and not only in the win-loss column. Bullpen arms aren't as durable as starters.

Jesse Orosco pitched until he was 75 years old. I think he was durable. And he pitched every day. Countless relievers have had careers of over a decade. Where are we going here?

They don't have the drive-train to pitch long and often.

What? Many pitch multiple days in a row. I’m confused.

The only way to keep the bullpen from exploding is for Leyland's starters to stay in games. But when pitch counts rise, starters are against the ropes. Consequently, relievers can unravel and end up on the disabled list -- or worse.

Traded to Pittsburgh?

After that, it’s basically a bunch of quotes from JV about throwing better pitches. I’m not too concerned about him…yet. Verlander struggled through April last year, too. He’s going to be fine.

It’s the Porcello kid that has me worried. But that’s a smart-ass hack job on another person’s work for another day.

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