There’s been a lot of talk about pitch counts recently. Most of it centers on another unnecessary and overly simplistic dichotomy. It’s possible to advocate a progressive approach to pitcher usage and also want pitchers to complete games. Over the past three years, 271 pitchers have completed games with fewer than 110 pitches, including everyone from Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez to Jose Lima and Tim Wakefield. What we need is not an emphasis on pitch counts where they are absolute limits without any reference to effectiveness, but instead using them to guide pitchers towards increased efficiency. It would be easy to tell pitchers that they’re free to complete games as long as they hold their pitches under a certain number. That would leave the pitcher free to decide whether he wants to waste that 0-2 pitch outside or get the guy out of there. Figure out what’s been done 271 times and do it every time out, or quit complaining. Beyond giving your bullpen a rest day, in and of themselves complete games don’t have a lot of intrinsic value. Having your best pitcher out there for the most innings–in whatever role–is important, and this is just one way to do it. There’s plenty of room to improve pitching in both subtle and dynamic ways.

Powered by … holy crap, Pujols hit another one … a rethinking of pitching, top to bottom, that’s happening around the game, on to the injuries:

  • The Dodgers are not cursed. As much as any Dodgers fan wants to believe that they’ve experienced a run of bad luck, luck doesn’t show this much pattern. Instead, we’re facing chaos, a seemingly unrelated pattern of injuries and occurrences that, when looked at a little more closely, actually does follow some heuristics. I’ve discussed cascades before as they relate to individual players–an injury to one part of the body can often create more problems as the body tries to adjust–but they also occur to teams. The Dodgers are a great case for this, as injuries have forced players out of their roles and into others for which they may not have been as prepared. Yhency Brazoban had a heavy workload last year filling in for Eric Gagne. Seventy innings is hardly a heavy workload for any pitcher, but the usage patterns and in-game workloads in high-stress situations may have contributed to this. The injury to Brazoban, a torn UCL, is bad enough. But Brazoban’s injury was much worse than the normal ligament tear. Instead of the ligament itself tearing, the pitcher experienced an avulsion, where the ligament actually tore away a chunk of bone. It will be re-inserted and reinforced, much as a normal Tommy John. This type of injury is rare, but should not impact the rehab. We’ll see Brazoban back next spring. This latest injury is another data point for the failings of the Dodgers when it comes to team health, along with another data point for the health problems that befall converted position players.
  • The Angels have an interesting team construction. Keeping heir backups mostly at Triple-A allows them to carry someone like Tim Salmon even when their outfield carries considerable risk. In the pitching ranks, if–or should I say when–Frankie Rodriguez goes down, Scot Shields might not be the long-term solution. Instead, the team might push Kelvim Escobar into the role. The hamstring strain that Rodriguez experienced this weekend might not put him on the DL, though the Angels will be extremely conservative. That means Shields will get the saves for now. Late word is that Rodriguez’s injury was a cramp, not a strain.
  • Barry Bonds is threatening to walk away again. This time, it’s the elbow that’s bothered him over the past half-decade, rather than his knee. Bonds is said to have bone chips in the elbow, though sources tell me that he’s exaggerating when he says that there are “12 or 13” chips in there. It’s worth pointing out that, yes, this is the same elbow that he had surgery on in 1999, caused by steroid use if you believe Game of Shadows. With his surgeon fighting a subpoena, Bonds reiterated his pledge to walk away from the game rather than have more surgery. This is somewhat odd, given that bone chips are one of the simplest surgeries and quickest rehabs. You’ll remember that then-Giant Rich Aurilia missed the minimum 15 days coming back from bone chip removal in his elbow several years ago. Bonds has a tendency to speak first and think later, especially regarding his health, so take this with the necessary seasoning. The Giants should also get Armando Benitez back this week, though he will not return to closing immediately.
  • At 36, Jim Edmonds is seemingly in a shallow decline. The injuries that plagued him earlier in his career, mostly things of the past by the time he first arrived in St Louis, are starting to come back. The most serious problem he’s had during his Cardinals tenure is the recent shoulder injury. Edmonds took a cortisone shot on Saturday, hoping to quiet the severe inflammation inside the shoulder. Edmonds did run into a wall on Friday, but the shoulder is noted to have been problematic as far back as spring training. While the shot might quiet the symptoms, Barry Weinberg and the medical staff will need to work hard to find the cause, or else spend the rest of 2006 fighting to keep Edmonds functional.
  • The Braves are concerned that Edgar Renteria will need to go to the DL after experiencing no reduction in pain over the weekend. Renteria is pained by a recurrent intracostal strain, something he’s had problems with on and off for much of his career. There’s also been some speculation that Renteria is dealing with a leg problem–likely a hamstring–due to some noticeable limping. This is possible, though an intracostal strain can often cause a person to “list” to the injured side, protecting it, which can often mimic a limp. The Braves will try to wait out the injury in hopes that Renteria can come back, but may be pushed by the need to have Wilson Betemit over at 3B with Chipper Jones already out.
  • The Reds are being cautious with Ken Griffey Jr.. Sure, it’s an easy answer, but it’s true. They’ve learned over the past few years that even a small injury can turn into much more with Griffey, and that losing him for a week is preferable to losing him for a month or the year. The knee problem he’s having is minor, well out of proportion to the amount of time he’s been out in most cases. However, Griffey is not a normal case in any sense of the word, so the guidelines used as a general rule are meaningless here. The Reds–and fantasy owners–want to maximize his availability and effectiveness over the course of a season, not over the course of the first month.
  • Precaution is the watchword. Some teams know how to do it, some teams still subscribe to the old-fashioned tough-it-out school, and others do it by throwing up their hands. It’s nice to see that the Blue Jays weren’t scared of placing Roy Halladay on the shelf for a bit, being more sensibly concerned with making sure that he was healthy, rather than just available. Given all of his recent problems, erring on the side of caution is the smart play. For Halladay, being locked into a long-term deal makes it easier. Don’t discount the effect that heading to arbitration has on the willingness of a player to disclose injuries. Precaution is also why the Mets will be without Carlos Beltran for a few days. Beltran has a tight hamstring, and the Mets staff will be working to make sure it gets no worse. Their roster flexibility allows them to keep him off of the field a couple of days without forcing a DL move, another way you can tell which teams get it.
  • The Red Sox will be a bit shorthanded with their starting pitchers, something you wouldn’t have thought possible just a month ago. David Wells heads back to the DL to receive the increasingly common Synvisc injections in his painful knee, putting Lenny DiNardo on the spot to take a couple of starts. Normally, a player can get the injections just after a start, but this is the first time Wells has had these, making his reaction a bit less predictable. Wells is expected to return in the minimum two weeks, but an adverse reaction or the failure of the Synvisc to reduce his pain and inflammation may well force Wells to retire. That would leave the Sox to decide whether to bring up a starter or convert Jon Papelbon back to starting. Keep your eye on the usage of their minor league prospects–especially Craig Hansen–for clues.
  • Most teams can deal with one injury, even two at the same time. It gets more dicey when the injuries involve the same backup. The Pirates will be without Sean Casey for at least two months after it was discovered that he had small fractures in his back. It’s a serious injury for any hitter, let alone one with a history of back and hamstring problems. The popular Casey will undergo aggressive rehab in hopes of getting him back into Pittsburgh’s lineup ASAP, but do not be surprised to see this go well beyond the listed six or eight weeks. Craig Wilson, a great replacement who may well outhit Casey, will get his spot in the lineup. The Bucs are also dealing with a hamstring strain to Ryan Doumit. Normally, Wilson would be the emergency catcher, but with his now having to start at first, the Pirates called up Ronny Paulino from Triple-A.
  • The Yankees could have a very deep bullpen, assuming that Mariano Rivera gets past his atypical early season results, and that Kyle Farnsworth doesn’t have flashbacks to the days of his less mature antics. It will get better when Octavio Dotel is back, giving them closer-style stuff from whoever is pitching in the last three innings. Dotel is ahead of schedule from last season’s Tommy John (though behind his own pronouncements), and figures to be in the Bronx by mid-May. After throwing batting practice, he’s headed out for an extended spring training game. His velocity isn’t the problem; like most TJ’ers, his control is the biggest concern, and something to watch closely when he gets into rehab games.
  • The Rangers need pitching help wherever they can find it, so hearing that Frankie Francisco could be back soon is certainly a positive. Jon Daniels is becoming this season’s version of Paul DePodesta, the whipping boy for the cynics who hold their position by tenure and not merit, but happily, Tom Hicks is no Frank McCourt. As the bullpen gets deeper with Francisco’s return (or allows Coco Cordero a bit of rest), the Rangers won’t be as reliant on shaky starting pitching.
  • Kerry Wood made it through his simulated game without problems, though the results of his three-inning stint aren’t known. The Sun-Times’ Mike Kiley stated that he went 51 pitches (and since he got that number from Dusty Baker, you can know that it counts!), meaning that he may only need one, maybe two rehab starts to get up near the 90 pitches that the Cubs need to see from him before his activation. A decision on where he’ll make his first rehab start will come today, with the start likely to happen later this week. The Cubs also put Angel Pagan on the DL with a hamstring strain. Many were surprised when they called up David Aardsma rather than Felix Pie, but they shouldn’t have been. Pie is scheduled to spend the better part of the summer in Iowa, and it would take an injury to Juan Pierre to bring him up early.
  • Quick Cuts: Trot Nixon is due back early this week. He’s on track with his rehab from a moderate groin strain … Nomar Garciaparra may head out on a rehab assignment later this week, though Dodgers sources tell me he’s “way behind where he should be.” … Bartolo Colon had a nice start after seeing on video that he was not using his legs … Craig Wilson has his hands back, something he never had with two fractures marring his 2005. He’s as potent as it comes when healthy … Ryan Drese will have an MRI on Monday in California. It’s expected that his UCL is torn and that he will have Tommy John … Jason Kubel is headed back to Triple-A. It’s unclear how, if at all, his knee is affecting his swing. In the video I’ve seen, it doesn’t look like it’s problematic … The Royals lose another pitcher. Denny Bautista will go to the DL with a strained pec. Jeremy Affeldt will take his starts.

Thanks to everyone who sent messages about UTK at SI on Friday. I was excited to lead off what will be a great partnership between the top sports magazine and the top baseball analysts. We’ll be contributing a column every Friday.

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