August 16, 2010

Kevin Slowey and the no-hitter that was never going to happen

Kevin Slowey was brilliant yesterday, no-hitting the A's through seven innings, and many fans at Target Field booed when he didn't come out for the eighth inning. And then they booed far louder when Jon Rauch allowed a one-out hit on the way to giving up two runs. However, it was absolutely the right call by Ron Gardenhire. Sure, he could have left Slowey in to start the eighth, but between his pitch count and elbow issues a no-hitter just wasn't going to happen.

Slowey had his last start skipped due to elbow soreness and was slated to be on a relatively short leash yesterday. Those plans obviously changed somewhat when he failed to allow a hit through seven shutout innings, but Slowey was already at 106 pitches with six outs left to go. Under normal circumstances I'm sure the Twins would have given Slowey every opportunity to make history, but those weren't normal circumstances.

He's averaged 16.3 pitches per inning this year, including 15.1 pitches per inning yesterday, so realistically it likely would've taken at least 130 pitches to finish the no-hitter. His career-high is 114 pitches and he's thrown more than 106 pitches just seven times in 76 starts, so allowing Slowey to throw 20-30 more pitches than ever before just days after elbow soreness kept him from taking his turn in the rotation would've been something between silly and irresponsible.

And for what, exactly? No-hitters are great and I certainly don't blame anyone at Target Field for wanting to witness one in person, but there have been five (or six) no-hitters already this season and a total of 268 in baseball history. Allowing someone who missed his last start with elbow problems to go well beyond his previous career-high pitch count in an effort to get the six outs still needed to become No. 269 hardly seems worth any kind of risk.

When the best-case scenario is a 130-pitch no-hitter from a 26-year-old pitcher with a tender elbow that's a pretty underwhelming best case and with two innings remaining the odds were still against Slowey actually completing the no-hitter. Leave him in and there's a strong chance he ends up allowing a hit on, say, his 127th pitch, in which case the Twins would've gone from risking his health for a minimal reward to risking his health for zero reward.

All of which is more or less exactly how Gardenhire explained his through process afterward:

I would boo too. I mean, I was booing myself. But I also know what's right, and that's why I [pulled him]. I wanted to see a no-hitter myself, but I also know I'm responsible for this young man's arm. You just can't risk a guy's career. I'm not going to do it. Slowey is coming off an elbow injury and we're not about to even come close to risking this guy.

I'm not going to let him throw 125, 130 pitches. It's just not going to happen. If he went back out for one more inning, he'd probably be up around 115, 120, and he'd be done anyway. There was no way he was going to finish, and we're just not going to risk this young man. He's got too big of a career ahead of him.

Judging by all the hugs and handshakes he was doling out in the dugout between the seventh and eighth innings Slowey wasn't exactly crushed by the decision to pull him, although he did admit afterward: "I don't think it would be possible not to be a little bit disappointed." He also joined Gardenhire in seeing the decision as a smart one in the bigger picture:

More than anything I was encouraged. I was encouraged by the way it was presented to me, I was encouraged by the fact that Gardy and [pitching coach Rick Anderson] care a whole lot more about me as a person and as a pitcher in the long term than they do about winning one game, or having one accomplishment. I think that says a lot about them, and it says a lot about our organization.

Exactly, and I also think that reaction says a lot about Slowey.

  • Rob

    Kevin Slowey is a smart guy. Good game, Kev.

  • Ryan

    Nice Response. While we often (and with some good reason) fault gardy over his love of scrappy no hit infielders and an over reliance on veterans (far less this season actually) and being a little conventional with his lineup construction, I think this article highlights gardy’s best skills, taking care of his players, making sure players are happy and motivated over the course of a long season and maintaining a good clubhouse rep.

    In that regard, I think gardy’s one of the best managers in baseball

  • brian

    Of course he should have been taken out. Sheesh. The only issue people should have is with who was going to relieve him. Maybe Rauch was the healthiest. A combined no-hitter is much more rare so should also be encouraged.

  • Gendo

    Yeah there’s no reason to criticize Gardenhire for this move. The man is a buffoon but he was right today.

  • doug

    Maybe just the nerd in me, but I like smart, understanding, aware, articulate, cognizant players. Slowey’s comments just make me like him more.

    How many other pitchers would have been not only okay with but appreciative of Gardenhire’s decision? How would Johan have reacted?

  • Neil

    Frankly, I find Slowey’s comments about the team caring about him to be ironic, given that they let him pitch with his wrist problems at the end of ’08 and throughout the first half of ’09. Truly, I never understood why fans and media never raised questions about the way the Twins handled Slowey then. I’m no doctor of course, but letting him pitch with that for nearly a calendar year seems like a very strange decision.

    On the bright side, Slowey’s had four terrific starts around his elbow problems (albeit against three pathetic hitting teams and a hot-and-cold Tampa offense) and the White Sox are sinking like a stone. With Buehrle, Danks and Floyd going here, a sweep seems unlikely, but if the Twins can pull that off, the AL Central race should be all but over.

  • Brooklyn Twins Fan

    All these folks lauding Slowey’s comments need to take your head out of the sand to allow me to sell you some magic beans. (Aaron, you arent the only one…)

    You really think Slowey would say anything that deviated from the “company line” in the paper? Of course not. He would come off as arrogant, and selfish while simultaneously throwing the coaching staff under the bus. Deep down though, that guy WANTED to go back out there, but he’d never say it to the scribes.

    If his elbow hurt him that much he shouldve been on the DL in the first place. He may never be in the position to throw a no-hitter the rest of his career and because of the “magical pitch count” he couldnt get 6 more outs.

    That is just pathetic and a buzzkill to what couldve been a very memorable sunday afternoon for Slowey, and Twins fans everywhere.

  • marietta mouthpiece

    I understand but have grown weary of the collective angst and the constant railing against the pitch count philosophy made on a daily basis by analysts. Kruk’s take on Slowey being pulled was that it was the right call, in part, because of the current focus of baseball managers on pitch counts. I would submit that pitch count was almost a nonfactor, other than it gave the manager an idea of the risk associated to Slowey should he be left in the game because he then knew how much effort his pitcher had expended at that point.

    In other words, I believe that any decent manager in the thick of a pennant race from almost any era would have pulled any starting pitcher who had skipped the previous start due to tendinitis under similar circumstances.

    Well, any manager except for Billy Martin in the early 80′s when he was busy burning out a young, talented Oakland A’s starting rotation.

  • JB (the original)

    I think they did smart/safe thing. I guess we’ll see how his arm feels, see if he makes his next start on schedule, and see how he performs….

    The Twins, after an off day today, play 13 straight days. If Slowey was allowed to get up in the 120+ pitch range, there is a good possibility that they would want to give him an extra day between starts; which they could do, but then the whole rotation is shuffled. Now, they could bring up and spot-start Blackburn, but someone (Manship? Mahay?) would have to go down, and LN Punto is due to come the DL too….

    I think Gardy was thinking of not only Slowey, but just keeping the machine rolling smoothly, minimizing extra pitching day changes etc., especially with how nicked up the team is.

  • Fran

    I’d submit the opposite: the pitch count was a huge factor and the tendinitis a minor one, if at all.

    As AG notes, Slowey was averaging ~15 pitches/inning. Even an optimist had to concede completing the no-hitter would mean 130+ pitches. No manager of a team with designs on October is going to let a starter do that, clunky elbow or not.

    Gardy is pushing all the right buttons at the moment. Fans who are booing him need to buy a clue.

  • Jenny

    I agree it was the right decision, but I can completely understand why the fans were upset. Sure there have been 5 no hitters this year, but the Twins haven’t had one for 11 years. Slowey will probably never even sniff another one.

    Glad to see that he doesn’t seem upset about the whole thing.

    I could never be a manager—-because I would have sent him out there until he gave up the hit. Pitch count, be damned.

  • http://www.twinsfix.com David

    You really think Slowey would say anything that deviated from the “company line” in the paper? Of course not.

    Kevin Slowey has never had a problem giving frank, honest answers in interviews, including skepticism at his own progress in rehab from his injury last year (when the team was sending a much more optimistic message.)

    He would come off as arrogant, and selfish while simultaneously throwing the coaching staff under the bus.

    Because no athlete has ever done something stupid out of arrogance or selfishness (or pride), and no athlete has ever thrown his coaching staff under the bus because of arrogance or selfishness (or pride).

    Deep down though, that guy WANTED to go back out there, but he’d never say it to the scribes.

    He acknowledged that by saying, “It’s impossible not to feel a little disappointed.” But he showed that he’s a mature enough person to take the long view and realize what’s best for him, the team, and the organization.

  • Dave T

    If you saw the 7th inning, you knew he was done.

  • mike wants wins

    The crowd: Is the crowd at Target Field always quiet like it’s a funeral? My son found it kind of depressing. Other than the DP, the HR, and booing Rauch, there could have just as easily been no one in the stands and there been the same energy…

  • Andy

    Just for the sake of argument: I wonder what would have been the thing to do if Slowey had been *perfect* through 7IP.

  • Pedro Munoz

    Anyone who doubts this decision should look at Slowey’s last start on August 5th.

    Slowey gave up no runs, two hits and no walks through seven innings. In the 8th he gave up a home run, a single, a walk, and hit a batter, which resulted in four earned runs after Mahay gave up a grand slam to Jason Bartlett.

    Putting aside the health concerns, Slowey is a guy who hits a wall around 100 pitches.

  • Josh

    I was at the game yesterday, and I would totally risk the possibility of injury for the opportunity to see the 269th no-hitter in MLB history. I know it’s selfish, but I endured 10 years of awful indoor baseball and a labor strike, so I think I’m entitled to a pitcher throwing 25 more pitches at the risk of possible further injury for an indelible memory that will last a lifetime. If it was Slowey’s decision to come out, fine. I can live with that.

    Maybe Slowey wins a World Series or Cy Young or becomes a Hall of Famer down the road. Maybe he gives up a hit on the first pitch thrown in the 8th. Maybe he hurts his elbow and is out for the season. I’d risk all of those outcomes for the chance, just the chance, to see the kid finish a no-no. Yesterday could have been Slowey’s day, but Gardenhire decided to live for tomorrow instead. Fitting that yesterday was the 60th anniversary of Peanuts, because the game ended with a [sigh].

  • kalarson

    “I also know I’m responsible for this young man’s arm. You just can’t risk a guy’s career. I’m not going to do it.”

    File under “Things Never Said by Dusty Baker”

  • Justin

    Josh-
    No, you aren’t entitled. I understand why fans at the game booed yesterday, but it’s telling that the vast majority of Twins fans – most of whom weren’t sitting at Target Field yesterday – seem to be supportive of how Gardy handled the situation. We all “suffered” through indoor baseball. If Twins fans are “entitled” to anything, it’s a legitimate effort toward winning a world series. Gardy’s move yesterday was the act of a manager who prioritizes a world series run above ANY other goal, and I for one couldn’t be happier with him.

  • BR

    Under these circumstances, where Slowey had missed his prior start with arm trouble, Gardy made the right call.

    However, Slowey isn’t some 21 year old rookie. At some point – like, maybe September of this year – he’s going to need to be able to get to 120 pitches. Had he not missed his last start, I would have expected him to start the 8th and then take it 1 batter at a time.

  • Grey

    It was definitely the right move. Remember Slowey’s last outing against they Rays, when he was cruising into the 8th and things started to unravel (capped by the nifty Bartlett grand slam). Elbow issue, over 100 pitches, etc. etc.

  • Dave

    Man, baseball people have become a bunch of pus#ies.

    The guy pitches 7 innings of no-hit baseball and it’s a general consensus that there is no way he could stay in the game.

    WHY?

    Because 2 more innings would make his arm fall off? He can pitch 7 and that’s fine, but there is a consensus that 2 more would put his entire career in peril? Give me a break.

    And then there is consensus that because he was somewhat shaky one inning he almost certainly could not have pitched 2 more hitless innings. I could not disagree more. It happens every day that a guy has a shaky inning and turns around and pitches two more good innings. What happens in the 7th does not guarantee what is going to happen in the 8th or 9th.

    There is no way that just 10 years ago this pitcher would have pulled. I can’t believe people (including the pitcher himself) are just fine with it because letting the guy try and complete a no-hitter would have messed a little with the pitch count.

    The pus#ification of baseball continues.

  • Spanky besbol

    I could not agree with Dave more. Butch up, you Sally’s. The possibility of two more innings does not mean Slowey is going to derail his career. I havent seen anyone say anything about the role of adreneline and pitching in the “zone” in this discussion board. I pitcher who has not surrendered a hit in 21-plus batters needs to have those factors added into the fact that he hadn’t pitched in 10 days along with the injury worries that Gardy, Andy and Aaron are so worried about.
    So maybe he goes out there in the eighth, walks the first batter and gets pulled. Or maybe he gives up the dinger. But give him the chance. Baseball doesn’t always have to be a spread sheet math equation.
    It’s times like these I ask myself “What Would Crash Davis Do?”

  • brian

    There’s too many morons taking up space here. I guess that’s the sign of AG’s success. If you guys want to vent, do it somewhere else like the twins site or talk radio. Slowey wasn’t going to go out, he was done. He acknowledges that. And it was proper to anyone with a brain that he come out. Why the weird fanboy fascination with one man/one hero solo getting the glory? A no-hitter is a no-hitter, solo or combined. In fact, a combined one is far more rare, and just as exciting. And you still get your name in the record books. It would have been just as cool for Slowey and potentially one other reliever to dash out on the field and hug the reliever that got the final out for the no-hitter. Everybody wins. Why are you even discussing Slowey going back out? The much more interesting discussion is who would have been best to relieve him based on the matchups to keep it going. But nobody here wants to talk about that. Pity.

  • Dave

    Dear brian,

    You are a retard and your points aren’t worth discussing.

    Sincerely,
    Dave

  • D-Luxxx

    Dear Dave,

    You’re being a dick, and your last post added nothing to the discussion. I’m sure your comment will be deleted along with mine shortly.

    Sincerely,

    D-Luxxx

  • Pedro Munoz

    Dave’s first comment was probably the single dumbest thing that has ever been posted on this web site. No manager 10 years ago (except maybe Dusty Baker) would have kept a pitcher in longer than he had been pitching all season when he missed his last start with a sore arm. Dave’s second comment, using the always persuasive argument “you are a retard” goes a long way in explaining where the first comment came from.

    And “What would Crash Davis do?” I’m not sure what the point of that is since he was a fictional character who actually sucked at baseball and spent his whole career in the minors. Hooked up with Susan Sarandon? Taught Tim Robbins how to give interviews?

  • D-Luxxx

    Right call by Gardy. Baseball is a team sport, and although individual accomplishments are fine and dandy, the ultimate prize isn’t won in one game in the middle of August.

    Slowey had his season high in pitches in the Tampa game of 114 pitches and then had to sit out the next game due to soreness. It isn’t babying your pitching staff, it is ensuring that they are able to continue pitching for you for the long haul.

    I guess my question for those stating that they deserved to see Slowey come out and try for the no-no is this. What if he hurts himself in the 8th and is out for the year? Do you really want Blackburn or one of our other AAA schlubs to come in and pitch in his place for the rest of the year? I doubt it.

    It’s called risk/reward. The risk was way bigger than the reward, and thus, Gardy pulled him instead of overworking him.

  • Gendo

    Ah yes, the misogyny of the old school sports fan on display.

  • http://nickleanddimes.blogspot.com Drizztdj

    There’s a reason why Gardy has been runner-up manager of the year 5 times.

    Please don’t make it six after this move to preserve an arm of a young pitcher and forward thinking of the season versus extra fireworks at the end of the game.

    Give Gardy the title, give Slowey kudos for being humble and smart about his status versus chasing a stat.

  • DHanson

    It’s obviously easy for some commenters here to dismiss legitimate concerns for another person’s career. I don’t understand why it would be a good idea for Slowey to go out and risk not only the rest of this season, but another decade in the majors for a far-from-unique statistical accomplishment. I don’t see why Gardenhire, in the middle of a pennant race, should be expected to risk losing a useful part of his rotation for that either. As it was, according to the quotes I read, Gardenhire and Anderson were already pushing the envelope with the length of time they left him in the game.

    Perhaps these apparently immature commenters should leave the web for a while and concentrate on growing up.

  • buck

    Anyone that thinks he should have been left in should read this (Of course I think everyone should read it because it’s great writing and says a lot about the Royals)

    http://joeposnanski.com/JoeBlog/2010/07/27/meche-ing-with-sasquatch/

  • Gendo

    “There’s a reason why Gardy has been runner-up manager of the year 5 times.”

    Because sportswriters are criminally retarded.

  • ganderson

    Has anyone gone back and reconstructed pitch counts from days past? I remember in my youth (cue the 4 Yorkshiremen) that it was an insult to be called a 7 Inning pitcher. Whitey Ford was so derided (wouldn’t it be great to have such a lousy pitcher!) I sense though, that hitters take a lot more pitches than they did 30 years ago, I’m guessing that a lot of CGs were thrown in fewer than 100 pitches.

  • Les Straker

    why not let him start the 8th? just because he starts the 8th doesn’t mean he is going to finish the game. if he pitches to a hitter or 2 in the 8th, odds are that he was going to give up a hit and then no one would have to talk about this. he also doesn’t have to throw all out to the last bunch of hitters. put the ball over the plate and hope for a couple quick outs or give up a hit and go sit down. throw it underhand for christ’s sake. danks just had a 5 pitch inning against the twins so it is not a forgone conclusion that it would have taken slowey a bunch more pitches to get through it.

    if his elbow was any problem he would have missed more than 1 start and probably gone to the DL.

    i just find it hard to believe that a pitcher with any heart wouldn’t put up a fight to stay in there. it could have been 1 more pitch that he had to throw.

  • Gendo

    Because it’s a meaningless accolade and it’s not worth risking injury, Slowey’s livelihood and the Twins minuscule championship hopes on.

    Heart is something fat old guys talk about.

  • http://stickandballguy.com/blog SBG

    “Those plans obviously changed somewhat when he failed to allow a hit through seven shutout innings”

    May I fail like that once in a while.