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06/13/09 2:30 AM ET

Complete games making comeback

Pitchers finishing what they start more in 2009

Every starter wants to finish, and there isn't a manager around who minds when he does. Going the distance is the goal most every outing for most every starting pitcher.

Four times Friday night, a starter and a manager got their dual wish: The bullpen door didn't swing open and the guy who threw the first pitch also threw the last pitch.

What's not to like about going the distance?

"It's very satisfying," said the D-backs' Dan Haren, who picked up his second complete game of the season and eighth of his career in an 8-1 victory over the Astros. "It doesn't happen that often. It's fun when it happens because you get a real sense of accomplishment. You get to walk off and shake hands with the catcher and that's a really a unique thing.

"It's cool. A complete game is the only way that can happen."

Haren was joined Friday night in going the distance by the 2008 National League Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum of the Giants, Luke Hochevar of the Royals and Ubaldo Jimenez of the Rockies.

Suddenly, the complete game isn't looking so much like a thing of the past. With specialty bullpens and attention on pitch counts, complete games skewed downward for a few years, hitting a nadir of 114 in 2007, but bouncing back last year with 136.

The pace at the moment is such that Major League pitchers could ring up enough of them to challenge the 170 mark for the first time in five years. After 136 in 2008 -- 75 in the AL, 61 in the NL -- Major League pitchers have gone the distance 62 times -- 33 in the AL, 29 in the NL -- through Friday's games. That is on pace for roughly 165 this season.

Whether the complete game is on a real upswing in 2009 remains to be seen -- pitchers are off to a good start, but it's a long way before they're finished.

No, it's not going back to the days of Cy Young, he of 749 career complete games and nine seasons of 40 or more, or even to the days of, say, Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, who finished his career in 1986 with 231.

But the complete game seems to be making more of a mark lately.

Its power could be seen in the hot start the Royals enjoyed this season, riding the mastery of Zack Greinke every five days. You might say it could be heard in the groans at Rogers Centre when Roy Halladay left Friday's game with a groin injury.

Guys like Greinke, this year at least, and Halladay, for about the last six years or so, are a complete game waiting to happen. There's no question there's a trickle-down effect to a team's pitching staff, and to a certain extent the team's fortunes. Sure doesn't hurt.

While 300-game winner Randy Johnson leads all active players going away with 100 complete games, Halladay may be the next great hope for the complete game, and Greinke may be the next great hope after that.

Finishing the job
Complete games in the Major Leagues since 1999
Year
AL
NL
Total
2009332962
20087561136
20076448112
20066678144
200585104189
20047971150
200311099209
200211599214
200110396199
2000107127234
1999108128236

At 32, Halladay ranks fifth among active players with 43 complete games. While Livan Hernandez has a few more at 46 and is only two years older, Halladay probably has the better shot of keeping his roll of complete games going.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia compared Halladay to former Dodgers greats Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser, who had 113 and 68 career complete games, respectively -- and in doing so, exposed a big reason a horse can go the distance.

"They had the same tenacity to be able to pitch with elevated pitch counts, but keep their stuff," said Scioscia.

While Greinke is well down the all-time list with just eight, five of those have come this year -- including four in five starts at one point -- so he's certainly an intriguing possibility for the future.

It's too early to tell whether this year will be a breakout year, but -- health willing -- there are certainly some other candidates who could start ringing up more complete games. The Yankees' CC Sabathia belongs at the top of the list, right next to Halladay, and there are some other 20-somethings who already have a couple under their belts this season -- Matt Cain of the Giants, Zach Duke of the Pirates and Jered Weaver of the Angels.

On Friday, Greinke's teammate Hochevar, the 2006 first overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft, picked up his first of his career. The Rockies' Jimenez, a hero of the 2007 postseason run, followed with his second career CG to become the 45th player this season to pitch a complete game.

Last year, 83 different pitchers went the distance, with 13 doing it three or more times -- led by Halladay with nine, Sabathia with seven, Ben Sheets with five and AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee with four. In what might be an indication that the CG is trending upward, there are already 15 pitchers with multiple complete games, with Haren picking up his second Friday.

With five already, Greinke has a chance to become the first pitcher since Johnson led the Majors with 12 in 1999 to reach double figures. Halladay has been on the cusp of that twice, last year and in 2003 -- when he, Bartolo Colon of the White Sox and Mark Mulder of the A's all had nine.

But many factors and many intangibles will intervene between now and the first week of October, and not just for Greinke. The summer awaits, with the challenges it presents. And even for horses like Halladay, there's a potential for injury.

The complete game might not keep up the pace. Like Greinke, however, it's off to a pretty impressive start.

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, The Grind. MLB.com reporter Jesse Sanchez contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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