Manager Torey Lovullo of the American Diamondbacks says lack of complete games is a result of the game changing.
A vanishing accept of baseball is a complete game. When lefty Robbie Ray of the Arizona Diamondbacks cruised along, shut down the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night and filtered his effort with a string of shutout innings, the temptation was to leave Ray alone.
That might include going the distance, but the nature of the game has changed drastically over the past decades. If Ray was pitching in the 1950s or 1960s, and regardless of a pitch count, he likely would have remained in the game. With a greater emphasis on conditioning, the advent of technology and a concerted effort to preserve a pitcher’s long-term production, complete games are now shoved to the back burner.
In Ray’s case, he has never thrown a complete game in the majors, and had four in the minors. That includes 63 starts at the major-league level (including two for 2017) and 96 in the minors.
In today’s game, the natural barrier is 100 pitches and once a pitcher approaches that number, calls to the bullpen usually generate. Against the Giants in his last start Tuesday night, Ray threw 111 pitches and 67 for strikes. That included five walks over his 6.2 inning of work.
While the temptation is leave a pitcher in as long as he is productive, that 100 pitch guideline dominates thinking. Manager Torey Lovullo of the Arizona Diamondbacks told Venom Strikes during the recent home stand that several factors now influence the length of a pitcher’s outing.
"This game is hard and it’s changing. The pitch count is a deciding factor and the bullpen is also a consideration. There are now more specialists. There is greater technology, advances in medicine and nutrition. These all factor into the decision how long to leave a pitcher in the game."
A quick glance at the history of the game reveals its changing nature. Clearly, pitchers in the 19th century were noted for endurance. Will White, a pitcher for Cincinnati in 1879, holds the single season mark for complete games with 75 that year. Clearly, that’s an aberration because pitchers will get around 32 to 34 starts a season now in the modern game. By contrast, the current active leader for complete games is C. C. Sabathia with 38.
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Considering the current Arizona Diamondbacks’ rotation of Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller, Taijuan Walker, Patrick Corbin and Ray, this group has a combined 26 complete games for 676 starts. These figures are from the start of the present season.
During the recent home stand, Corbin told Venom Strikes one objective for a pitcher is that complete game. At the same time, he recognizes how the game has changed.
"The goal is 100 pitches or reach nine innings. That’s not always the case because guys are throwing harder and there’s more stress and strain on your pitching arm. While you want to throw a complete game, that will be very difficult to achieve."
After an off-day Thursday, the current road trip continues in Dodger Stadium. In a marquee match-up for the series opener Friday night, righty Zack Greinke (1-0, 2.31 ERA) takes the ball and draws lefty Clayton Kershaw (1-1, 3.46) as his mound opponent.
On Saturday, look for lefty Patrick Corbin (1-1, 1.80) to start against right-hander Kenta Maeda (1-1, 6.30). For Sunday afternoon, it’s righty Taijuan Walker (1-1, 4.91) and Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts is undecided. In the series finale Monday night, lefty Robbie Ray (1-0, 2.19) opposes former Diamondback Brandon McCarthy (1-0, 3.00).
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The road trip then concludes with three in San Diego against the Padres.