Lasorda wants to see pitchers 'throw and throw'
Tommy Lasorda can talk forever, especially if the conversation involves baseball. I'm guessing you know about his affinity for the Big Dodger in the Sky, along with all things ranging from Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale to Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes and Ron Cey to Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Clayton Kershaw.
Well, here's something else that keeps Lasorda's tongue flapping with the greatest of ease: Pitch counts.
He despises them.
In other words, as if you already didn't surmise after watching Lasorda prosper during all or parts of his nearly 60-year association with the Dodgers, he is a man of great baseball wisdom. He knows pitch counts should go the way of wool flannel uniforms.
"There is no question that the Commissioner [Bud Selig] has done an outstanding job by adding the Wild Cards to keep fans interested in September and by getting revenue sharing to help everybody in baseball, but pitch counts -- that's the only thing I don't like about the game," Lasorda has told me on several occasions.
On this occasion, Lasorda nearly spit out the words "pitch counts" between clenched teeth. "Pitch counts. Pitch counts. I just don't get it," he said, shaking his head for good reason.
For instance: If pitch counts were around in some capacity when Lasorda began the first of his 20 years managing the Dodgers before the 1977 season, those pitch counts were invisible.
They clearly didn't exist for much of the 20th century. Now they are everywhere, and they involve a manager combining with his pitching coach to limit the number of pitches that a guy can throw each outing.
To hear supporters tell it, pitch counts save the arms of pitchers, not only for a season, but for a career.
"I like to see guys throw. Throw and throw," he said. "That's the only way you strengthen your arm is to pitch."
The Detroit Tigers get it. As they've done since Justin Verlander won 17 of his 30 starts in 2006 to win American League Rookie of the Year honors, they've operated with an old-school mentality by allowing Verlander to throw, and then throw some more.
Verlander eventually spent last year throwing himself toward one of the greatest seasons for a pitcher. In addition to his 24 victories ranking higher than anybody in the Major Leagues, he led baseball in games started, innings pitched and strikeouts. His 2.40 ERA also was the best among AL starters, and he had the league's highest winning percentage at .828 courtesy of just five losses.
It earned Verlander the rare honor of owning his league's Most Valuable Player Award and the Cy Young Award in the same season. Not only that, the Tigers still are letting Verlander throw and throw some more, and the results have remained splendid -- unless you're a hitter.
There was Verlander, spending his third start of this season, going nine innings against the Kansas City Royals along the way to a complete-game 3-2 victory.
He threw 131 pitches.
A hundred and thirty-one pitches?
Those among the Pitch Count Nation rolled their eyes.
For one, Verlander only topped 130 pitches once in 2011, and that was when he threw a season-high 132 during a game in early May. For another, nobody throws that many pitches these days unless its over a couple of games between whirlpool stints.
"I was playing in the Canadian-American League, and I pitched a 15-inning game," said Lasorda, now 84. "I walked 10, and I gave up 11 hits. I struck out 25 guys. If I were pitching today, I would have been out of there in the third inning, because of these pitch counts. And today, for these kids in the Minor Leagues? Pitch counts, pitch counts."
Just ask Stephen Strasburg, the right-handed flamethrower for the Washington Nationals. Sports Illustrated wrote that Strasburg was the most closely watched pitching prospect in baseball history, and he had the pitch counts to prove it.
During Strasburg's Major League debut in June 2010, he allowed two earned runs, no walks and struck out 14 in seven innings for a victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. With his adrenaline as vibrant as his fastball, he could have gone longer, but ... pitch counts.
Despite the Nationals' delicate ways with Strasburg, he pitched only a few more times before missing the rest of the season after mid-August due to Tommy John surgery and almost all of 2011.
Strasburg is back this season, and he is 2-0 with a 1.08 ERA while striking out 25 and walking six in 25 innings.
This is more impressive: Earlier this month against the New York Mets, with the game tightening in the sixth inning and his pitch count rising past 100 for the first time in his career, Strasburg watched Nationals manager Davey Johnson sit in the dugout with his arms folded.
Said Johnson later to reporters of Strasburg, "He's just one of the guys now. I'm going to handle him just like he's perfectly healthy, and he had plenty left in the tank there."
Which is Lasorda's point: if a guy can still pitch, let him pitch. Not only that, if you keep training guys not to pitch as often and as long as they can, they will fulfill those low expectations more often than not.
Here's one more thing about Verlander's 131 pitches against the Royals. His 129th pitch was measured at 100.3 mph, and his last pitch was exactly 100 mph.
So much for pitch counts.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.