Johan Santana threw a career-high 134 pitches Friday night. Of course, he tossed a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals and etched his name in New York Mets franchise history as the first pitcher to no-hit an opponent.
Life is good — near perfect — in Flushing.
So why is Mets manager Terry Collins so anxious?
“In five days, if his arm is bothering him, I’m not going to feel very good,” Collins told the media last Saturday.
Oh, that. The pitch count. The debate over Santana’s pitch count started around the seventh inning, before he even pitched a no-hitter. No one was more aware of the pitch count — and history — than Collins and his pitching coach Dan Warthen. Prior to Friday, Santana had not thrown more than 108 pitches in a single start. Now, the Mets $24 million man has taken the clicker to new heights.
Santana’s career-high pitch count came on September 23, 2008 as a New York Met when he threw 125 pitches against the Chicago Cubs. But it’s important to keep the 2008 performance in context. Santana was younger, stronger, healthy. He was no stranger to the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. In 2004, Santana made 20 consecutive starts which he threw 100 pitches or more (May 29-September 8). He threw more than 100 pitches in 23 of his 34 starts in 2004 with the Minnesota Twins. Santana finished the season 20-6 with a 2.61 ERA. In 2008, Santana threw 100+ pitches in 26 of 34 starts.
Different time, different Santana.
Four years, one shoulder surgery (that sidelined Santana for the entire 2011 season) and one labor-intensive start later have passed. Now, the question lingers: Did Santana throw too many pitches?
The truth is, no one knows — yet — but the potential residual effects are frightening to even think about.
So how much is too much? That depends on the value you place on pitch counts.
In a recent interview, Dr. James Andrews said high pitch counts lead to fatigue and, according to the report, most shoulder and arm surgeries in youth, college and professional baseball are related to fatigue in the arm.
“Pitching too much in one game, one week or one season is a very high risk factor,” said Dr. Edwards. “The problem is the injuries don’t always show up when they pitch too many pitches …”
Three days before Santana’s no-hitter, Chicago White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper was questioned for allowing rookie lefthander Chris Sale throw a career-high 115 pitches before being relieved in the eighth inning of a win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
“This pitch count thing, we’re in the American League,” Cooper told the Chicago-Tribune. “We’re not in Little League. Pitch counts are for people who have never been in the game. People that bring up pitch counts are … doing that to say, ‘God forbid if someone goes down, I told you so.’ And these are people that are not in the arena and never really played, so what kind of validity does any of that hold?”
Sale had an MRI after complaining of soreness in his left arm in early May.
Nolan Ryan once threw 245 pitches in a single game. He also threw seven no-hitters. Ryan knows how to pitch and how to win. He has no use for pitch counts, a philosophy the Texas Rangers organization has adopted.
Pulling from personal experience, Ryan insists dedication and work ethic are the foundation to building arm stength and stamina to pitch deep into games. Rangers pitchers now participate in a year-round fitness program and “pitchers throw live batting practice besides their regular work,” added Rangers pitch coach Mike Maddux.
“The dedication and work ethic that it takes to pitch an entire season as a starting pitcher and the discipline to continue to maintain his routine all year,” Ryan told the Dallas Morning News. “They want the ball every fifth day, and they have to go out there with the intent of pitching late into games and not complaining.”
The Mets have decided to give Santana an extra day off. Instead of taking his natural turn on Wednesday on the road against the Washington Nationals, Mets manager Terry Collins and general manager Sandy Alderson both confirmed the Mets ace will start Thursday. R.A. Dickey, who threw a complete game shutout Saturday, will pitch on short notice in Santana’s stead. Of all pitchers in ther Mets rotation it is Dickey who is best suited to bridge the gap and accomodate Santana. Or, is he?
Speaking to ESPN-New York Sunday, Dickey didn’t sound as confident about pitching on short rest as the rest of the Mets organization seems to be. According to the report, Dickey said he was not signing off on the short-rest assignment until that bullpen session adding, despite the perception, it would not necessarily be easier for a knuckleballer to come back on short rest.
“I don’t have a real definitive answer at this point,” Dickey said in the interview. “The perception is that knuckleballers like to throw quite a bit. I do like to do that from time to time. But we’ll see how the bullpen goes. I mean, after a complete game, it’s a little bit more taxing. We’ll see, but I’m open to it.”
Meanwhile, Chris Young will help fill the void, making his first major league start since May 2011 tonight against the Washington Nationals. Sound familiar? Young said Santana was encouraging and inspiring during the year-long rehab. Dickey on three days rest Wednesday and Santana Thursday. This will be an interesting week for the New York Mets. Hold your breath, here we go.