Edwin Jackson threw 132 pitches to help the Tigers complete a sweep of the Texas Rangers. Pitch counts and the hubbub around them are fodder for controversy. I tend to favor caution in these scenarios but am willing to consider each game on an individual basis. Who was the pitcher? What was the game state? Is there an off day coming up? How much rest is he pitching on? What is the pitcher’s injury history? And on and on. I don’t think there is a simple answer to the right number of pitches, but today Jim Leyland left Edwin Jackson in too long. I worry if this is going to be a pattern in 2009.
Let’s look at today’s game and analyze the situation. Jackson had an extra day of rest having last pitched on Friday. His pitch count was also a manageable 97 pitches in that last start, well at least it seemed manageable. But don’t forget there was a rain delay that lasted over an hour and Jackson pitched on both sides of that delay meaning he threw extra pitches in the cage. His workload was actually higher that game than the 97 pitches would indicate.
As for today’s game, it was close. Jackson entered the 8th inning at 105 pitches protecting a 3-1 lead. I have no problem with Jackson starting the inning. Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney had pitched the previous two games and I understand that Leyland would want to save one of the two. If he can get Jackson through the 8th he only needs 3 more outs and Jackson looked strong in the 7th fanning the side (and allowing a double).
Jackson then walked the leadoff hitter on 5 pitches pushing his pitch count total to 110. The walk wasn’t a good sign and may have been cause to go the bullpen at that point. Michael Young was up next and Jackson had him at an 0 for 4 day. Young went on to hit the first pitch to the warning track in left-center. So now Jackson is at 111 pitches and has allowed a walk and an very well hit ball. Yet another opportunity to lift him.
Hank Blalock, a switch hitter who mitigates a lefty/righty platoon play is up next. Instead of picking a new pitcher Leyland leaves Jackson in. On the 6th pitch of the at-bat and the 117th of the day Blalock lifted a ball to the wall that was about 2 feet short of home run. Clete Thomas probably should have caught the ball but it went for a double. So the tally for the inning is a walk and 2 hard struck balls and a pitcher with 117 pitches under his belt.
Still no pitching change though and Jackson gets a brief reprieve as Marlon Byrd pops up pitch 118 to the shortstop but the tying run is still in scoring position and Nelson Cruz is up. Both Bobby Seay and Ryan Perry were warm. Perry could have come in, and even if he struggled with his control there was an open base and a struggling Chris Davis on deck. But Jackson stayed into pitch to Cruz and after getting ahead 1-2 Cruz laced pitch 122 to the gap tying the game. At this point Jackson has to come out right? A walk and 3 smoked balls in the inning weren’t enough.
Jackson then walked Chris Davis on 6 pitches. I think at this point, whether you believe in pitch counts or not, Jackson deserved to be lifted for ineffectiveness. To his credit Jackson was still throwing 97, but location was a problem. Jackson stayed in and eventually finished off Saltalamacchia on 4 pitches. I guess that makes it the right decision? I don’t think so.
The reasons for keeping Jackson in this game weren’t the right reasons. It didn’t look right strategically and it wasn’t right from a responsible pitch management perspective. The only reasons to keep him in were either to try and get him the W or an ancient belief that “real men don’t need pitch counts.”
But what worries me more is a pattern that Jim Leyland seems to be establishing this season. I didn’t agree with his usage of Jackson in his last start either to run his true workload that high in a game where the Tigers had a sizable lead. Beyond Jackson, Justin Verlander has thrown 110 pitches or more in each of his last 5 starts and has averaged 119 pitches in his last 4. I haven’t had issue with his use of Verlander in the individual games from a strategic perspective. And if Verlander tops 120 pitches it isn’t a disaster. But to routinely be touching that mark I think is too much. At some point one of these guys will need a light day.
Today’s game has caused me wonder if this is the price of having a manager on the last year of his contract. Is Leyland managing for an in season extension or for the long haul? I don’t mean he is doing anything in a sinister way or with intentional malice. But his situation dictates that the very short term takes precedence over the long term.