Still reeling from the news about Jose Fernandez. I know a lot of pitchers get Tommy John surgery, but this thing in which an exciting young pitcher bursts on the scene and wows all of baseball for a while and then goes down just when we’re really starting to enjoy it all is really getting old. Stephen Strasburg, Matt Harvey, Fernandez. There were others. There will be more.
Many more if this chart from Bill Petti — put together using data from Jon Roegele — is any suggestion. It shows the steep rise in Tommy John surgeries over the years. Sure, some of it is probably a function of doctors and teams being more willing to pull the trigger and have the surgery done where, a few years ago, the pitcher’s elbow may have been rehabbed instead. But the mainstreaming of TJ surgery is not the only factor. Guys are throwing harder, throwing longer when they’re kids and they’re paying the price for it in elbow ligaments.
Based on what James Andrews had to say about it last month, there isn’t a whole heck of a lot Major League Baseball can do about this, as the damage being done to pitchers’ elbows is largely being done before they ever sign their first pro contract.
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.