To me, Sheets’ most telling comment Friday concerned his willingness to pitch through the 2008 stretch drive despite knowing that his arm, as they say, was falling off.
Asked if he thought the Brewers would have handled him differently in retrospect, he said, “They couldn’t have handled me differently. I was on the bump (mound) – I wasn’t taking myself out of there. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d go out there and be willing to blow my arm out again.”
This is something too few people understand. Every time a pitcher gets hurt – at least in modern times, in the paranoia over pitch counts – it’s the manager’s fault. The pitching coach’s fault. Has to be somebody’s fault. Dusty Baker, as sensitive to a player’s plight as any manager in the game, still hears from horribly unenlightened critics who believe he carelessly blew out arms on the Giants, Cubs and now the Reds.
It’s competition, folks. It’s a strong-willed athlete who would do anything to take the mound. It’s a manager with faith, and the good sense to ride the hot hand. It’s Robb Nen, Kerry Wood, Ben Sheets. The injuries come, or maybe they don’t, but the operative phrase is “Let’s go,” not “Jeez, I’m pretty worried.”
No, No, No, No, a thousand times no. Jenkins suggests that Baker was correct in having Mark Prior and Kerry Wood throw all those pitches in 2003 simply because they were competitors who wanted to so. All pitchers want to pitch and believe that they can get the next guy out. If managers simply said “Let’s go” in every situation, you would have hurlers getting injured with regularity. The organization hires the manager to manage the club’s assets, and part of that job is to know when it would be best for the long term success of the club to pull your best option at the moment from the game. Yet managers frequently ignore that responsibility in order to save their own skins, understanding that they may not be around much longer if they lose games with their best arms on the bench.
A balance needs to be found, where the manager is maximizing the value that he can extract from the pitcher without putting the pitcher at risk for negative long term repercussions. Managers such as Baker have shown an inability to consider the long-term health of the organization by throwing caution to the wind and only considering the immediate consequences of a decision. That is a failure by the manager, as well as a poor job by the organization in allowing the field general to continually put his players at risk. Joe Torre had a problem of that sort in regard to relievers, where he would recklessly “ride the hot hand” until the player got injured or became tired and ineffective. Thankfully, it seems that Joe Girardi has no such problem, and is on the same page with Brian Cashman and the rest of the organization in terms of effectively managing pitchers.
What do you think? Is Jenkins right? Should pitchers just be allowed to pitch?