Rockies Pitchers Should Head for the Hills

Tons of deserving buzz for Roy Oswalt after dominating the series opener against the Rockies Friday.  He faced a lineup with power left-handed bats in Todd Helton and Carlos Gonzalez but without Tulowitzki.  Not the easiest matchup, but one that had historically benefited Oswalt (8-2 in 12 career starts with a 1.94 ERA), and yet again he continued to show his dominance going 6.2 IP and giving up only 1 ER with 6 Ks in 110 pitches.  The real matchup I’m most interested in is the Colorado pitching versus the Rangers lineup. 
Rockies Manager Jim Tracy recently shook up his pitching staff by demoting $8+ million-a-year man, Jeremy Guthrie to the bullpen and going to a four-man rotation with each starter being held to a 75 pitch limit in each start. (Although, Jeff Francis did throw 76 in Thursday’s 5 IP in Philadelphia.) Tracy’s reasoning for this move is to get his bullpen more involved in every game because he perceives the ‘pen as the strength of his ball club.   I have to believe the pitch limit is also imposed, at least in part, due to only having a four-man rotation which will add up to a lot more games started and innings pitched over the course of the season as opposed to a five-man rotation.

Friday’s starter for the Rockies was LHP Christian Friedrich.  He’s 24 years old.  In his last start he threw 5.0 IP, gave up 2 ER, 5 BB and 4Ks.  If you throw out the walks, that’s not a terrible line.  My issue is that he’s only 24 and has pretty decent stuff, why on earth would you want to handicap him to 75 pitches?   He’s facing a Texas lineup that at its worst is formidable against any SP in the big leagues.  No Moreland or Murphy against LHP (and Moreland now out 4-6 weeks with a strained hamstring) but Craig Gentry has been smoking hot the last 2 weeks and batting .348 in 115 at bats for the season in 56 games. I felt Friedrich handled his job pretty well, but probably didn’t have another inning in him.  He pitched six complete innings while keeping to the pitch count (73).  If Beltre doesn’t find the jet stream in the 1st, then Friedrich is sitting pretty decent.  I don’t believe Tracy would have let him go much further in the game, however.  Moscoso came in to finish the last 2 innings of the game throwing 30 pitches, presumably making him unavailable for today’s game.

Saturday, Tracy will trot out another southpaw, 27 year-old Josh Outman.  Outman’s first experience with the 75 pitch governor was against the Phillies where he went 4.1 IP, giving up 4 ER, and 3 Ks.  In case you don’t know, the Phillies lineup is not quite as potent as the Rangers, although I do love me some Placido Polanco.  Righty Alex White will start Sunday for the Rox opposite Matt Harrison.  White’s 75 pitch start was the worst of all three.  3.2 IP, 5 ER, no Ks.

Tracy’s reasoning is flawed and should be exposed over the next few games.  There’s a reason that no other big league clubs use a four-man rotation.  It destroys arms and heavily taxes the bullpen.  Working on three days rest hardly works in the postseason, and now Tracy is trying to make it work for almost the entire regular season.  This disrupts starting pitchers’ routine between starts.  Everything has to be adjusted and shortened.  Not only is the time more limited to make fundamental adjustments, you have to be more restricted in your pitch count in your bullpen sessions on your off days which limits what improvement work you can do between starts.   There simply isn’t enough time to rest and work.  The same thing can be said and is even multiplied with the bullpen. A bullpen is strong when it has rest and only works a couple of innings a game.  When the ‘pen is going  4-5 IP every game on average, then it gets tired, weak, and becomes ineffective.   Arms get tired, and when arms are weary, injuries occur.  Tracy will have to monitor his “strength” very closely or he may ruin some of his power arms he has back there.  Ultimately, they are in the bullpen for a reason, because they’re not ready to be starters, or they lack the arm strength to go the distance of a starter.    Giving the bullpen more innings can’t be the answer to the Rockies pitching woes.

The numbers suggest the Rangers will score a lot of runs this weekend.  Coming home with lots of momentum from the road trip and last night’s win, the Rangers are in a great position.  All they have to do is see pitches. The Ranger lineup needs to show a little more patience then it did last night. Make the young Rockies starters throw strikes.  Take on a 3-1 count here and there.  75 pitches is 3 IP if you make them average 25 pitches an inning.  Our lineup can be patient, particularly Kinsler and Elvis.  The only way I see the Rangers struggling this weekend is if they get antsy and swing at the first pitch they see every time up which they have done a little bit this year.  Otherwise, with the heat, and the home cooking, Texas could be enjoying a 9 game winning streak when the Tigers arrive at the ballpark on Monday. 

Will Mitchell is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. He can be reached at Will.Mitchell@ShutDownInning.com or on Twitter @WillMirtchellesq.
Will Mitchell

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