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Young, Raw ... And Underworked

By Phil Jackman

Let's talk about pitching. What, again?

What else is there to baseball? That and maybe a little defense if you can spare it. Hitting? You can almost do without it if you're of a mind.

The Dodgers in the '60s, for example. If they scored three runs in a game, it was regarded as a deluge. The likes of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Claude Osteen would take the mound not only expecting to pitch nine innings but thinking shutout.

They might even win if Maury Wills bunted his way on, stole second base, moved to third on a grounder to the right side and Lou Johnson hit a sacrifice fly. They won the National League pennant and were outscored, I think.

"Pressure? There is no pressure," Drysdale once said. "It's us (pitchers) against their hitters. It's our job to stop these guys. Yeah, it's nice to get runs to work with, but that doesn't change the pitcher's job."

That is nowhere near the attitude pitchers take to the mound these days. They're so used to being coddled by terms like "quality start," "pitching deep into games," and "keeping us in it and giving us a chance to win," it's embarrassing how little is expected of them.

And now, in the middle of the dog days of summer and with virtually little to play for, save development, the Orioles are acting as if they've done everything that could be expected of them this season.

Holy cow, look at all the dynamite young arms they have. These guys -- Bergesen, Tillman, Matusz, Hernandez, Berken and Hendrickson -- might well constitute the pitching rotation for the next decade. Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara are frosting on the cake. Bullpen? Who needs a bullpen with such wealth starting games? Unfortunately, teams seem to put together their staffs backward these days.

In fact, the club is so confident in the future of these people, it's talking about cutting back on the workload heaped upon these overburdened youngsters. It seems the brain trust of general manager Andy MacPhail, manager Dave Trembley and pitching coach Rick Kranitz is pretty well satisfied with the work of the gang this season.

In the team's first 125 games the pitching had turned in two complete games. At the same time the club was dead last in the American League with an earned run average over 5.00. It has given up the most runs, hits and home runs. What makes anyone think these guys have progressed enough so that it's time to do something about all the innings that have been stacked upon these young arms?

"We just don't want to overload them," said MacPhail, as though we're talking about a bunch of Ironman McGinnitys here. These are only their inning pitched totals to date (Aug. 27) but both Chris Tillman's and Brian Matusz's 132 innings, David Hernandez's 130 innings and Jason Berken's 120 are by no means too much of a load.

We won't even go into the IP's turned in by pitchers of earlier times, particularly right here in Baltimore; it’s too embarrassing.

It wasn't too long ago when Trembley, watching one of his young flingers get raked, said, "It didn't make sense to leave him out there to get knocked around." Not unless you want him to gain the experience of pitching his way out of a nasty situation, Skip.

Any chucker worth his ERA will tell you he learned to pitch not while he was cruising along until his pitch count neared 100, but while he was trying to negotiate his way through an opposing batting order a third or fourth time. Mike Cuellar's goal always used to be to get a batter out four times with the four pitches he featured -- fastball, curve, slider and "screwgie" (changeup).

Chances are slim-to-none pitching will ever return to the days when it was an art, but cutting down on the workload and treating the arm as if it is never to be taxed is ridiculous.

Another scary thought emerging from this idea of babying young pitchers is MacPhail’s pointing out that come September the O's bullpen "will expand, so we can turn the game over to the (relief pitchers) earlier."

Think about that for a minute before turning to thoughts of wondering when they're going to start fixing the potholes for the coming Grand Prix of Baltimore.


Maybe the U.S. track team should stop patting itself on the back at the World Championships long enough to figure out why it is unable to get the baton around a 400-meter track so seldom in international competition. Forget the four fastest guys for a change and go with a team that at least qualifies for the final. This foolishness has gone on far too long.


Is it un-American to point out that many find the Little League World Series to be a crashing bore?


What makes anyone thinks Bobby Knight is going to show up for induction into the Indiana University Hall of Fame?


In what other sport can a coach, in effect, "cheat" his way into a better paying, more prestigious job than college basketball?


If you don't think pitching is 90 percent of the game of baseball, contemplate the "Miracle Mets" 40 years ago knocking off the Almighty Orioles in the World Series -- Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, Nolan Ryan and numerous stiffs eliminating a B'more team that had already won 112 games. It was sad, really.


Maryland is a 21-point underdog for its football game against California on Sept. 5, so I don’t think the Terps have to be overly concerned with missing a couple hours sleep over almost two days. Besides, the game isn't until Saturday evening and I don't think there's a law against taking a nap in the Bay Area.

Posted Aug. 28, 2009