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September 9, 1999

NL East Notebook

A Bad Trend in Philadelphia

by Jeff Hildebrand

A Bad Trend in Philadelphia

In late May, there were several stories in the national media about Curt Schilling's desire to pitch complete games, and how he was only the third pitcher in the 1990s to throw five straight complete games. Notably absent from those stories was any discussion of the wisdom of Schilling's workload. This was especially strange because the other two pitchers to throw five complete games were Tommy Greene and Pat Hentgen; each subsequently suffered serious injury problems and/or a severe loss of effectiveness.

In Schilling's case, his determination to complete games cost the team even before he went on the DL. On May 23rd against the Mets, he went out to pitch the ninth inning with a four-run lead, despite having a pitch count around 120. In an inexplicable move, manager Terry Francona then left Schilling in for the entire inning as he gave up five runs, including two who scored after being hit by a pitch.

Two starts later, Schilling was bombed by the Giants, and then a few starts later he started having soreness in his shoulder, which ultimately lead to his stint on the DL. Obviously this isn't proof of a connection, but is certainly looks like the timing is not a coincidence.

Unfortunately for Phillies fans, it looks like the team has not learned their lesson. Schilling emphatically denies that the workload was a problem and the front office seems to share that view, which is perhaps not too surprising given the presence of notorious arm slagger Dallas Green. Most worrisome is the fact that Francona seems not to have learned anything from the incident, as subsequent events showed.

On August 19th, Robert Person took a one-hitter and a three-run lead into the ninth inning against the Dodgers. Despite a pitch count over 120, Francona sent him out there to try and finish the game. In an inning eerily similar to the one Schilling endured in May, Person gave up three runs, including one by a runner who had reached via a hit-by-pitch. This time Francona pulled his starter (who was up to 144 pitches by that point) but the Phillies still lost the game.

The following night, the situation almost played out for a third time. Randy Wolf had a 2-0 lead after seven innings and had thrown 114 pitches. Francona let Wolf bat in the bottom of the seventh, and in the eigth the Dodgers mounted the start of a big rally off a clearly tiring Wolf. The Phillies managed to rescue that game with their offense, but the damage done to Wolf's arm and his confidence remains to be seen.

Francona's desire to leave his starters in the game as long as possible might be labeled the Ogea/Gomes Effect. Chad Ogea has been getting shelled fairly regularly of late, frequently coming out of the game in the early innings, leading to heavy bullpen use. At the other end of the game, Wayne Gomes has been doing his best Mitch Williams impersonation, throwing his fastball all over the place and doing little to instill confidence in his abilities as a closer. So while Francona's reluctance to go to the pen may be understandable in the short term, it's likely to be extremely foolish in the long-term.

If they are all healthy and performing at the level shown for part of this year, some group of Schilling, Person, Wolf, Paul Byrd and Carlton Loewer should form a very effective rotation. However the workloads are jeopardizing the team's chances of fielding a healthy combination of these pitchers, which may condemn the Phillies to more of the mediocrity they've suffered through for most of the last 15 years.

Notes

The Montreal Expos have finally called up leadoff hitter and center fielder of the future Peter Bergeron. Bergeron is a rare Expo with plate discipline, and will be their second-best player by the middle of May, 2000.... The Marlins' decision to shut down Alex Fernandez was a commendable one. He only has value if he's healthy, and allowing him to ruin a successful comeback while pitching in meaningless games would have been inexcusable.

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MORE BY JEFF HILDEBRAND
2000-07-03 - Francona's Follies
2000-06-28 - The Daily Prospectus: The Long Road
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1999-09-09 - NL East Notebook
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