Thursday, October 2, 2008

Maybe workload and rest matter after all

C.C. Sabathia, who pitched his way into National League Cy Young contention by carrying the Brewers into the playoffs, got lit up by the Phillies tonight. He walked four hitters in 3 2/3 innings -- including a devastating walk to pitcher Brett Myers before he hung a breaking ball that Shane Victorino hit for the game-deciding grand slam.

Um, surprise?

"The guy is just a workhorse," TBS analyst Ernie Johnson said after the game, "but (the Phillies) had his number tonight."

"You're always going to blame it on three days' rest, that this was the fourth time," Dennis Eckersley said dismissively a moment later. "But the thing about it was that he was just missing. It wasn't like he was terrible."

SI's Tom Verducci even outlined this morning how more pitchers have pitched on three days' rest this season (76) than any season since 2004. The numbers have gone down since 1999, when it happened 123 times, but the numbers are up significantly from last season (63).

This, apparently, is a good thing.

"Perhaps people will get comfortable with the idea that pitching on short rest - with the right pitcher at the right time -- isn't the automatic arm-killer and high risk that it's been made out to be," he wrote.

Or, maybe people will start to realize that pitchers get tired and a lack of rest will inevitably catch up with them -- especially at the end of a long season. Let's look at Sabathia's last two weeks:

  • Sept. 16: 7 innings, 99 pitches (4 earned runs);
  • Sept. 20: 5 2/3 innings, 105 pitches (1 earned run);
  • Sept. 24: 7 innings, 108 pitches (1 earned run);
  • Sept. 28: 9 innings, 122 pitches (0 earned runs).
It was outstanding. It was heroic. It lifted a desperately hungry team into the postseason.

But it also meant that he was pitching on fumes today, and it showed. He started off fine, striking out Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, but he allowed back-to-back doubles in the second before walking Myers (after starting him off 0-2) and Jimmy Rollins (on four pitches) before Victorino tattooed a flat breaking ball (on a 1-2 count) into the left-field seats.

By the fourth inning, Sabathia was spent; he had to battle just to get Myers to fly out, and he surrendered another double to Rollins and walked Utley before Dale Sveum came to get him.

His final line: 3 2/3 innings, 98 pitches (5 earned runs).

That's what a tired pitcher looks like -- he walks guys he shouldn't walk, and he fails to finish off batters he should finish off. He isn't suddenly terrible; he just misses. But against big-league hitters, pitches that just miss end up in the left-field seats.

I'm not saying the Brewers shouldn't have used Sabathia as much as they did. They wouldn't have made the playoffs without him, and for that franchise, making the playoffs is a big, big deal.

I'm just saying that it shouldn't be a surprise that it eventually caught up with him. And if the Brewers force a Game 5 and bring Sabathia back, don't be surprised if it happens again.

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