September 5, 2012; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy (32) leaves the field with a trainer after being hit in the head on a line drive by Los Angeles Angels shortstop Erick Aybar (not pictured) during the fourth inning at O.co Coliseum. Image: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon McCarthy Health Will Be Critical To Diamondbacks Success


With most teams in baseball, their progress and success hinges on starting pitching. The Diamondbacks have a solid staff from top to bottom without having that intimidating ace where you can just pencil in at least a quality start if not a win each time he takes the hill. Wade Miley was close to that last year, and Ian Kennedy-likely the team’s opening day starter for the third consecutive year- surely was that in 2011, yet not at all in 2012.

A guy the D’backs could really see some success from is right handed pitcher Brandon McCarthy. McCarthy was acquired via free agency this off season signing a two year $15.5 million deal after playing his last two seasons with the Oakland A’s. General Manager Kevin Towers and Co. must have seen something they liked with the 29 year old as they brought him over as the highest paid starter on the club.

Now, speaking statistically only, McCarthy has shown some success over the last two years playing in Oakland dropping his ERA by more than a full run (4.62 to 3.32) from his last year in Texas. He has also cut down on his walks and has allowed 1.6/9 innings over the last two seasons while keeping his strikeouts per nine innings around 6.2. For a reference, Cahill has averaged over three walks per nine innings over the same time period. Again, all solid without the eye popping numbers.

There are two critical points with McCarthy that will define his season in 2013. The first is whether the seven year veteran can hurl more than 170.2 innings over the course of a season. He set that number in 2011 and hasn’t even gotten close to that number in any other season. McCarthy has battled shoulder injuries in nearly every season throughout his career and spent time in the bullpen during the early parts of his career with the Chicago White Sox but has been unable to put together consecutive years of high innings baseball.

The D’backs have made it very clear that they want to be a ‘gritty’ baseball club and that will mean asking their starters to grind out innings throughout the summer. Kennedy, Cahill and Miley all threw at least 194 innings in 2012. Joe Saunders, their other workhorse who was shipped to Baltimore mid-season had already posted 130 innings in 21 starts which would likely have put four starters near the 200 innings pitched mark by season’s end. If McCarthy could just reach his 2011 numbers though, the club may consider that a successful 2013 season.

The second critical point for the Colorado native will be how he responds to his season ending injury from a line drive that left him with a fractured skull and brain contusion, requiring an emergency surgery on September 5th. The incident will surely make his first couple starts during spring training interesting for him as he hasn’t faced a batter since that day. There could be a mental struggle that stays with him affecting his control as well his aggressiveness in attacking hitters. McCarthy spoke on this on Tuesday:

“It was a one-time event,” he said. `It had never happened before. Hopefully, it doesn’t happen again. My purpose now is to just focus on what I can control and then just let the enjoyment of the game come back that way.”

True, it had never happened before, and frankly, the chances of something like that happening again have to be infinitely small. McCarthy has to be anxious about getting back on the mound to face live hitters but likely just as much so to put the event behind him and produce for his new club. The organization and the fans are expecting the same thing this summer.

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