Kerry Wood revealed something pretty interesting during a recent interview with David Kaplan of CSNChicago.com, saying that his 20-strikeout game against the Astros on May 6, 1998 on was the first time he felt something in his right elbow.
It all started with that famous final pitch, a wicked swinging strikeout of Derek Bell. Still, the recently-retired right-hander told Kaplan that whatever changed with his elbow that day was “worth it.”
Racking up absurdly high pitch counts as a rookie, Wood went on to make 21 more starts that year before sitting out the final month of the regular season with a sore elbow. He returned in late September to pitch in the NLDS against the Braves, but blew out his elbow the next spring and missed the entire 1999 season following Tommy John surgery. It’s not clear if Wood ever said anything to coaches after initially feeling something in the elbow, but he has said on numerous occasions that he felt it was only a matter of time before it gave out.
While Wood still enjoyed a productive major league career, he didn’t start another game in the major leagues after his age-29 season in 2006. If you are annoyed by your favorite team’s rookie pitcher getting pulled after 90-100 pitches, look no further than Kerry Wood as a cautionary tale.
According to Bill James’ Game Score metric, Wood’s 20-strikeout game ranks No. 1 all-time for a nine-inning game.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.