Pitching boundaries stretched with success


June 03, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

Scott Klingenbeck gave the Orioles more than a much-needed win yesterday. He also gave them evidence that it's possible to stretch the boundaries to which pitchers usually are restricted.

The 23-year-old right-hander accomplished three career firsts yesterday, the most important being his initial major-league win. Klingenbeck did it while starting after three days of rest, which hardly anybody does anymore and he hadn't done in his two years in the Orioles' organization.

After completing his seven innings, Klingenbeck asked pitching coach Dick Bosman: "How many pitches did I throw?"

When Bosman told him the count was 121, Klingenbeck put his hands to the side of his head and replied: "Wow . . . that's the most I've ever thrown in professional ball."

Klingenbeck was asked the most pitches he ever threw in a college game (Ohio State). "About 160-170," he said, "and then I'd come back and close in the next day or two."

As for pitching with three days' rest, instead of four, Klingenbeck didn't indicate there was much effect. "My fastball might have been a little off," he said, "but I think it helped my changeup."

The Orioles, like most teams, maintain a strict pitch limit (120) in the minor leagues. They are especially careful in the lower classifications, and starting pitchers regularly work every fifth day.

Yet Klingenbeck, who was supposed to start for Double-A Bowie tonight, made his big-league debut a day before his scheduled turn. And, he exceeded his pitch maximum against one of the best hitting teams in baseball. Presumably, there's no concern that his arm will fall off.

One game does not necessarily prove a point, and it can't be said that Klingenbeck overpowered the Tigers. But the bottom line is, faced with the necessity of replacing Ben McDonald, the Orioles decided to pitch a kid from Double-A on short rest rather than move their regular starters up a day.

With all of baseball bemoaning the scarcity of pitching talent, it would seem to be only a matter of time before some team returns to the four-man rotation. And if the team that does it experiences success, it's an off-the-board wager that the others will follow suit.

Professional baseball prides itself on its claim of taking better care of a pitcher's arm than most college coaches. Pitch counts are monitored regularly; starting pitchers are not used out of the bullpen; and there is a mandatory rest period.

One of the problems with the system, however, is the concern that young pitchers no longer are trained to go the distance. And that remains the strongest argument for the four-man rotation.

It can't be argued that limiting the number of pitches per game, while also reducing the number of starts per season, has curtailed injuries. That was the original intention, in the hope of extending careers.

But the annual occupancy rate on the disabled list disproves that theory.

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