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Up in Arms
2003-05-01 06:38
by Jon Weisman

Odalis Perez threw 93 strikes Wednesday night. Not 93 pitches. Strikes.

In all, he threw 132 pitches before being removed with two out and two on in a 4-0 game.

Pitch counts have been a fevered topic, even more so than usual, in the blog and Under the Knife worlds of late - the latest flashpoint being the simultaneously devastating and predictable injury to Florida's A.J. Burnett.

The latest nuance, led by Under the Knife's Will Carroll, certainly through his own quest of knowledge but also in de facto response to the complaint that x number of pitches for one guy doesn't mean the same as x for another, is to evaluate how much a pitcher's velocity is dropping and use that as a danger signal.

I didn't keep track of Perez' velocity in the beginning of the game, but here is what I observed. Perhaps this will provide some useful background for Carroll, Aaron Gleeman, Christian Ruzich or any of the others that are paying close attention to this topic.

He had only 71 pitches through six innings, but zoomed up to 114 through eight. I was pretty sure that Jim Tracy would remove Perez at that point. Eric Gagne hadn't pitched since Saturday, so there was no reason not to bring him in - unless you're a slave to individual save and shutout statistics and are determined to come away with one or the other. And, as I later found out from the Riverside Press-Enterprise, Perez had "felt some arm stiffness" Tuesday.

Tracy did let Perez bat in the bottom of the eighth, but in a sacrifice situation - nothing wrong with that. (Perez ended up hitting into a double play, which he didn't run out - not that anyone needs to dock him in that situation.)

But to my surprise, Tracy let Perez face Mike Lieberthal, who singled sharply, then Jim Thome, who hit a sharp foul before striking out. Perez's motion seemed labored to me, although perhaps that was fear talking to me. But then Perez also struck out Pat Burrell - on a bitter 91-mile-per-hour fastball - and nearly got Tomas Perez on a comebacker that grazed his glove before going into center field.

Vin, showing that he's a few years behind the times but not 40, was clearly surprised that Tracy was letting Odalis stay in so long, "in this age of ..." and for a minute I thought he was going to say concern about pitch counts, but instead he said, "...the closer." (You know I criticize constructively and with love, Vin.)

Finally, Tracy came out to make the switch. The fans booed him - and not, I suspect, because they thought Tracy had taken too long to come out. Perez clearly wanted to stay in. He listened as Tracy spoke to him on the mound, but did not look at him. I have no way of knowing whether Perez was upset with Tracy or not. In the dugout, you could see Perez showing Manny Mota how close he came to fielding the ball hit by Tomas Perez, so perhaps that was his chief frustration. The morning papers quote Odalis as understanding the decision.

So what's the verdict? I don't have enough evidence to convict of abuse, but I do have enough to prosecute for negligence. Was there any reason to let Perez even appear in the ninth inning after 114 pitches? Even if the risk of injury was 1 percent, was there any worthwhile reward at all?

Tracy did the same thing with Perez last year - almost exactly a year ago. Perez through 129 pitches in a complete-game, five-hit, 5-2 victory over Colorado at Coors Field. The bullpen was rested - the previous day, Jesse Orosco threw six pitches and Giovanni Carrara threw 11. I can distinctly remember my shock that Perez went all the way in that game.

As it happens, Perez was superb for more than a month following this game:

4/20/02...8.2 innings...1 run...116 pitches
4/26/02...9.0 innings...0 runs...91 pitches (one-hitter)
5/02/02...8.0 innings...2 runs...93 pitches
5/08/02...8.0 innings...1 run.....96 pitches
5/13/02...7.1 innings...2 runs..107 pitches
5/18/02...6.0 innings...3 runs...85 pitches

As you can see, after the workhorse game, Tracy tightened his leash on Perez (or Perez pitched so well, he tightened it on himself). Perhaps on Wednesday night, Tracy was seeking a reward via deja vu.

On the other hand, in Thursday's Times, beneath the noteworthy headline ...

Tracy Plays It Safe With Perez
as Dodgers Shut Out Phillies

Tracy indicated that he does worry about pitch counts - just later than some of us.

"...I have a player and an organization to protect," Tracy said. "I gave him every opportunity to finish the game, but if I let him throw 140 pitches and then find out he's not available in June, July or August, you'd feel a little different. It's the first month of the season, and he was extended out there pretty good."

It would be interesting to know why Tracy's magic number is in the 130-140 pitch range, and not 120-130 or 110-120. Honestly, he might have a good reason, but someone should at least ask him.

Like I said, I'll leave it to time and the more intelligent to pass judgment on Wednesday night. But I don't know how, in the age of ... Tommy John surgery, you can't worry about what happened at Dodger Stadium last night. It was a great win, but a scary one.

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