PHOENIX – At this time of the season, the baseball world is focused on essentially one area. That would be the upcoming All-Star game in Seattle next month. Among those lobbied to start include Corbin Carroll and Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. of the Arizona Diamondbacks, significant contributors to one of the surprising teams through the first half of the major league season.
In a matter of a few weeks, the aura of this event will evaporate like an ice cream cone in the searing Arizona heat. Then, pennant races begin to take shape and an important dimension could emerge.
With new rules established for the 2023 season, such as the pitch count and the necessity of the batter to be ready within seconds of a previous pitch, one consequence involves pictures.
At the time of the All-Star break, starters will have thrown around 100 innings. Logan Webb of the Giants leads the National League with 105 innings in games through June 25. For pitching coaches and starters in particular, how will the accelerated demands of a pitch clock affect preparedness and durability.
That is, and through the grind of August and September, will pitchers be able to collect their energy and work through the physical demands of a workload approaching 200 innings. Combine that with seconds of new delivery and that could be “a red flag.”
“I love the new pitch clock,” said Skip Shumaker, manager of the Miami Marlins, who are in second place in the NL East. “I feel this speeds the game up. I said (earlier this season) I don’t know what this will look like at the end of the season. When guys are throwing as hard as they can every 15 seconds, I wonder what this will look like at the end of the year. Regarding injuries, I thought about that during the majority of the off-season. For example, if a pitcher lifts weights as hard as he can for 25 seconds, you’ll get tired. I wonder how that will look 30, 35 starts in.”
From a strategic vantage, there seems to be an effort from field managers to save a starter’s physical limits. Earlier this season, Torey Lovullo, manager of the Arizona Diamondback, pulled starters after reaching 70 to 75 pitch count. At that time, he told reporters that if a particular game were played in August or September and with post-season implications, he would leave starters longer.
Since the beginning of the season, the issue of durability and the reality of the pitch click has not settled into minds. Rather, a conversation centered on the reality of the pitch clock and whether the accelerated movement would likely influence physical durability. One pitcher concluded this was a moot point.
“At this point, it’s all speculation,” said right-hander Merrill Kelly of the Arizona Diamondbacks. “I mean, it’s a few months into the season and I think we can’t really see into the future and see what things will be like. From the looks and sound of the (pitch clock), we need to get on board with that or try and do something else.”
Heading into the All-Star game, the Diamondbacks rotation could fall short, and not because of the issue of pitch clock durability That would come under the commands of competition, and, down the stretch, Lovullo simply cannot rely on Kelly and Zac Gallen to carry his club.
“The biggest thing is consistency,” Henry said. “How often can you be your best self? The adjustments come with the aim of being more consistent and having your “A” and “B” stuff more often. Plus, it’s about being aggressive and on the attack. That allows elite defenders to make plays behind you.”
Next … with the NL West division lead over the Giants and Dodgers continuing, the Diamondbacks now entertain the team with the best record in the game. The Tampa Rays move into Chase Field for three. Beginning Tuesday, it’s Zac Gallen (9-2, 2.84) ERA) facing righty Taj Bradley (5-3. 3.86). On Wednesday night, look for lefty Tommy Henry (4-1, 4.31) taking on righty Zach Efflin (9-3, 3.35). For the finale on Thursday afternoon, it’s Zack Davies (1-4, 7.82) facing right Yonny Chirinos 3-3. 3.91). Then, it’s a short three-game set at Anaheim against the Angels before returning home for a six-game home stand to the All-Star break. That includes three with the Mets and three with the Pirates.