McDonald's pitch count: just right for the job

INSIDE PITCH

August 07, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

The high pitch count didn't keep Ben McDonald from pitching his first shutout of the year Friday night.

If you've been paying attention this season, you've noticed that Inside Pitch ranks the number of pitches it takes to do the job right up there with the save -- somewhere behind the dearly departed game-winning RBI -- in terms of importance. IP has hammered on the subject more often than "Inside Edition" has mentioned Michael and Lisa Marie.

It took McDonald 146 pitches to finish off his one-hitter two nights ago, which provides a handy excuse if his arm falls off in the next few days.

It also brought to mind a story Jim Palmer related recently. (Palmer gets a call in IP more often than most because his memory is better than most -- and he doesn't subscribe to the idea of a pitch limit).

"The first year Mike Cuellar was here [1969], I was keeping the [pitching] chart for one of his games because I was pitching the next day," Palmer said. "I noticed he had thrown something like 135 pitches after seven innings."

Being the team player that he was and realizing Cuellar was 32 at the time, Palmer made the information known in the dugout. "Do you know he's thrown 135 pitches?" Palmer asked manager Earl Weaver.

"Go back down there [the end of the bench] where you belong," Weaver replied. "I'll know when he's had enough."

That was the first of three straight years Cuellar would pitch more than 290 innings -- and one of seven straight in which he would work at least 248. His arm didn't stop working efficiently until 1976, when he was 39.

Palmer said he once threw 170 pitches in a game -- and came back to throw 150 in his next start three (not four) days later.

That McDonald threw as many pitches as he did the other night can be attributed to the number of strikeouts (nine), walks (four) and more than a few foul balls hit by the Milwaukee Brewers. He faced 32 batters, five more than the minimum.

Each at-bat averaged 4.5 pitches, more than preferred, but hardly an outlandish number. At that pace, a perfect game would have required 122 pitches.

McDonald wasn't perfect, but the bottom line was one hit and no runs. The batters were unable to provide evidence that he'd exceeded his limit for that game.

The batters are a more reliable source than a pitching chart when it comes to determining how many pitches is enough. That's the way it has always been.

The chart comes in handy for determining which pitches are most, or least, effective in certain situations. But in any given game the batters are still the best judge of when a pitcher has had enough.

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