Saturday, June 26, 2010

Watched: Edwin Jackson

Last night I was watching the Cardinals/Royals game when they broke away to show a highlight of the Arizona Diamondbacks at the Tampa Rays. The highlight was with two outs in the eighth inning and a runner on first for the Rays. The runner was Carl Crawford, pinch running. Crawford was thrown out attempting to steal, ending the inning and preserving a no-hitter for D-Backs pitcher Edwin Jackson.

I quickly decided to switch to the D-Backs game (a decision made quite easy by the frustrating way the Cardinals were losing to the Royals). I then was able to watch the end of Edwin Jackson's no-hitter, which marks the first time I have witnessed the end of a no-hitter as it happened.

There are a couple of remarkable things about this particular no-hitter. First, Jackson was not dominant in the early going. He walked seven batters in the first three innings, including walking the bases loaded in the third inning before he recorded a single out. But he was able to work his way out of trouble each time and didn't allow another walk until there were two outs in the ninth inning. An 8 walk no-hitter isn't totally unprecedented, of course. When AJ Burnett threw his no-hitter in 2001, he walked 9 and Nolan Ryan walked 8 during one of his no-hitters. What seems unusual is, like Burnett, Jackson struck out fewer men (6) than he walked (Burnett only struck out 7 in his 9 walk no-hitter).

The other remarkable thing is that Jackson threw 149 pitches in the game, the most in a game by a pitcher this year. While going for a no-hitter trumps the usual concerns over pitch counts, there is precedent for such an effort basically ending the career of a promising young pitcher. In 2001 rookie Bud Smith threw a no-hitter for the Cardinals in September and threw 134 pitches in that game. The Cardinals skipped Bud's start after that game in order to allow him to recover and Bud was effective in three of his last four starts that season.

The next season, though, he was mostly ineffective in 12 starts for the Cardinals and then was sent to the minors (where he did have some success in 6 starts). Then he was traded to the Phillies in exchange for Scott Rolen and Bud's arm trouble started shortly thereafter. He was injured for the better part of the rest of his career, which never again reached the major leagues.

There is, of course, no way to correllate Bud Smith's arm injuries to the strain of pitching the no-hitter that September night, but a look at Bud's numbers from 2001 combined with how his career turned out at least raises the issue. Bud was 22 years old that year and, in his first season of enduring the stress and strain of pitching in the major leagues, he was asked to throw more than 90 pitches in 7 of his 14 starts (including over a 100 in 4 of those starts), crowned by his 134 pitch no hitter. Maybe Bud's arm would have fallen apart anyway, but a workload like that for a young pitcher certainly couldn't have helped.

So will Edwin Jackson suffer the same fate? Only time will tell, of course. Jackson has some advantages over Bud: he is 26 years old and has been pitching in the major leagues since he was 19. This is already his fourth season of being a full time starter at the major league level and there is something to be said of the body becoming conditioned to the workload. Jackson has thrown over 100 pitches in 12 of his 16 starts this season, including 10 in a row (and a 123 pitch effort on June 2nd). Last season he threw over 100 pitches in 21 of his 32 starts, including a season high of 132 on May 21. So maybe Edwin Jackson is a horse that is capable of throwing tons of pitches every time out. Or maybe Jackson is headed for a burnout. Again, only time will tell.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Watched: Stephen Strasburg

Well, probably every baseball blogger watched Strasburg's first start and is writing something about it. I guess it is a good enough story to bring me out of hibernation.

Everyone knows about the Strasburg hype by now: 100 mph fastball, hammer curve, and a sick changeup that just isn't fair. He brought all of those weapons to bear during Tuesday night's game. He seemed a little jittery at the start, getting behind each of the first two hitters, but he quickly turned on the dominance, getting six strikeouts in the first three innings.

And then he showed that he was mortal, giving up a two run homer in the fourth. But he settled back in and destroyed the Pirates lineup for the next three innings, striking out seven in a row at one point and finishing with fourteen strikeouts.

The only thing that limits Strasburg is his pitch count. Because he gets a lot of strikeouts, he ends up throwing a lot of pitches. The Nationals had him on a 90 pitch count on Tuesday and have stated that they will limit his number of innings this season. It is probably a smart move on their part for the long term health of Strasburg and only time will tell if he can physically hold up to the wear and tear of pitching in the major leagues. If he has the stamina to endure the high pitch counts and he stays healthy, he's got the ability to be the best pitcher in baseball for the foreseeable future. He showed on Tuesday that he's already got the stuff of a Cy Young candidate.