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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.