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September 26, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

Alou's Heel

by Keith Law

For the manager of a fourth-place team with few recognizable names, Felipe Alou has been in the news quite a bit lately. Boston observers have long considered him Dan Duquette's first choice for the Red Sox managerial job, and speculation heated up when the Duke sold his current manager, Jimy Williams, down the Charles River last week during the Carl Everett Affair. Well, the most recent one. I mean the most recent one involving Darren Lewis.

Now comes word from Montreal that neither Alou nor the Expos will be leaving Montreal this offseason. While Red Sox fans may be disappointed that the media-appointed genius isn't coming to Boston right now, Montreal fans may not want to rejoice in their victory just yet. The cause for concern is Alou's track record with some of his most promising young pitchers--notably Javier Vazquez, a rare bright spot in a generally dismal season for Expo pitchers.

After a late summer swoon, Vazquez has been phenomenal in September: In 39 2/3 innings, he has given up 37 hits, nine unintentional walks and just two home runs to go with a 2.50 ERA and 51 strikeouts. Unfortunately, those innings have come in just five starts, and as you might imagine, the pitch counts weren't pretty:

Date   Innings   Pitches

9/5 6.0 106 9/10 9.0 135 9/15 8.0 119 9/20 8.2 127 9/25 8.0 128

Vazquez has tired visibly in three of those starts, including a two-run eighth inning in yesterday's stellar outing against the Braves. And it's not as if this pattern is unique to this year: Vazquez rang up starts of 114 pitches (eight innings) and 110 pitches (nine innings) last September as well.

Vazquez is 24, so the risk of injury isn't as high as it would be if Alou did the same thing to, say, 21-year-old Tony Armas. But why do it at all? If September roster expansion serves one useful purpose, it's to allow managers to stuff their bullpens with extra arms, allowing them to use their starters less and to spread the work out among more pitchers. But the Expos are only carrying about nine active relievers right now, hardly enough with Felipe Lira and Mike Thurman giving the team three innings per start and Armas on a vague pitch limit. Also, Alou has been very quick to hook his relievers when they struggle, preferring to lean more heavily on Vazquez and the occasionally effective Dustin Hermanson. Part of the blame here goes to Jim Beattie, since he didn't recall enough pitchers this month and hasn't stocked the organization with many taxi-squad arms. But the willingness to leave Vazquez out there past 120 pitches is all Alou's, and Red Sox fans who foresee a great young rotation in 2002 with guys like Tomo Ohka, Paxton Crawford, Casey Fossum, Sun-Woo Kim or Brad Baker should be pleased that Alou won't get his hands on them just yet.

Keith Law can be reached at klaw@baseballprospectus.com.

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