Bryce Harper’s first major league hit - 4/28/12
Bryce Harper’s first major league home run - 5/14/12
Bryce Harper - Washington Nationals (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals
Gio Gonzalez - Washington Nationals (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Rob Dibble no longer a Nats broadcaster.
Horray! And now, we can all talk on our phone at baseball games while being girls again. I had to take some time off.
"Rob asked for some time off. Perhaps he’s not feeling well. But I’m not a doctor, nor have I seen his records. So I shouldn’t say anything more about it."
Only now I just realized
with the Nationals converting Bryce Harper to outfield, we have been robbed of a Strasburg/Harper battery.
Not cool, Nats. Not cool.
Jim Riggleman's experience with Kerry Wood influences his handling of Stephen Strasburg
Kerry Wood carries himself with the manner, somehow regal and humble in equal proportions, of someone who has known both glory and pain. You don’t need to read his bio or glimpse the scars on his right elbow and shoulder to know he has achieved much and endured much. He doesn’t boast, nor will he abide any sympathy — not when he has made nearly $60 million throwing a baseball and is still getting paid.
But if the many youngsters populating the Cleveland Indians’ camp this spring are drawn to Wood’s locker, it is not only because of his welcoming manner and his advanced (in baseball terms) age of 32. It is because they all remember a May afternoon 12 years ago, when they were mere school kids and Kerry Wood was the most electrifying young pitcher on the planet.
Long before he was a closer, before he was a perennial piece of trade bait, before he was a mainstay of the disabled list, and before he was a cautionary tale for the handling of young pitchers, Wood was the rarest of baseball phenoms. He was literally awesome, inducing awe in whoever saw him pitch. He was once-a-generation awesome.
He was Stephen Strasburg.
Or don’t you remember the hype of 1998, the 20-strikeout game in May against Houston, the 13-6 record that season, the 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings, the rookie of the year award, the 100-mph fastball, the physics- and classification-defying “slurve”?
"He was so good," Jim Riggleman said recently, "so dominant."
Riggleman was Wood’s manager in 1998 with the Chicago Cubs. If a manager is lucky, he gets to ride a thoroughbred like Wood once in his career. Riggleman will get to do it twice: He is the manager of the Washington Nationals now.
He has Strasburg.
Jim Riggleman is tired of answering questions about Kerry Wood in 1998, but he has done it this spring anyway — understanding, perhaps, what is at stake with the Nationals and Stephen Strasburg — and he does it with honesty and introspection.
"If I had it to do over, I would do it differently," he said. "And we probably wouldn’t have gotten to the playoffs. If I had known what was going to happen, I wouldn’t have pitched him that much, period. But I would have caught a lot of grief. I caught a lot of grief as it was. We lost a lot of games where [Wood] came out after five or six innings. I was getting comments like, ‘C’mon, Riggs, leave him in.’ "
Andy MacPhail, the Cubs’ president at the time, said he was surprised to hear Riggleman express regret over 1998.
"I don’t really have an issue with the way Jim used Kerry," MacPhail, now the Baltimore Orioles’ general manager, said in a telephone interview. "I don’t really remember any discussion of, ‘Gee, this guy was overworked.’ … You didn’t hear much of that back then. What has changed over time is the scrutiny and the documentation" of pitch counts.
It’s true much more is known today about the handling of young pitchers. Nowadays, teams rarely let inexperienced pitchers throw much more than 100 pitches in a game — 110 at the absolute most. They place stringent limits on innings totals.
And sometimes even then, the elbow blows out. An example: In 2009, with Riggleman as the bench coach, the Nationals put a young ace-in-training, Jordan Zimmermann, in their rotation. He averaged 98 pitches per start, never going beyond 109. The plan was to shut him down by September, but he never made it that far. Despite the Nationals’ extreme care, he blew out his elbow in July.
"I know as an organization, we’re glad we had those limits on Jordan Zimmermann, because he got hurt," Riggleman said. "If we didn’t have those limits and he got hurt, we would be thinking, ‘Well, did we do too much?’ "
Strasburg almost certainly will never throw more than 110 pitches in a game this year. He almost certainly will not pitch more than 150 or 160 innings. And still, you just never know.
As for Riggleman’s history, all you need to know is this: If Wood were Strasburg’s father, he would have no problem placing his son in Riggleman’s care.
"He kind of got the fall for the injury and all that. But he’s great," Wood said. "He’s a very good baseball person, very solid. He knows the game well. He’s fine with young pitchers. He’s probably better with them than with older guys, to be honest. He was great with me. He didn’t do anything wrong."
This article came out a month ago, but Len Kasper was talking about it on the Cubs broadcast of the Nationals/Cubs game today. So.
When I started watching Kerry Wood, it was in 1998. I didn’t know much about baseball then, and Kerry was this babyface rookie kid. There was so much hype and then he struck out twenty people, and it was fabulous. Fallen in baseball love.
It really, really is horrible how Kerry broke that year, Tommy John surgery, and how he has never recovered. How someone with so much pitching potential has been reduced to a injury stint on the disabled list every year and a joke and a punching bag.
Obviously, there’s been a lot of talk on how Kerry (and later Mark Prior) would break down, and there’s no way to tell how much influence Cubs management or Jim Riggleman had on Kerry’s arm. (Kerry famously had all ready pitching insane high-pitched games in high school.) But this can help influence the handling of any young kid, such as Stephen Strasburg, then at least something can be taken from this.