The dangers of having starters relieveBy
When Alfredo Aceves made an emergency start on July 9 in Minnesota, he did so under a strict pitch count, and he quickly reached his 65-pitch limit. For Aceves, it wasn’t a season high. That total came in his season debut when he threw 70 pitches against the Red Sox on May 4. It was, however, a recent high at the time, and he hasn’t approached that figure since early July.
In the three weeks leading up to that start, he threw five and nine pitches on back-to-back days, had two days off and then threw 43 pitches. He enjoyed another two-day rest before throwing 33 pitches. Then he had four full days off and threw five and 35 pitches before a two-day stint on the bench. On July 5, four days prior to his start, he threw 43 pitches.
Since July 9, we’ve heard a lot about Aceves’ various physical ailments. In late July, he spoke of a sore shoulder, and he hasn’t been as effective after the All Star Break as he was before. Many pixels have been burned discussing Aceves’ usage and health, and late last week, Mike looked at how Aceves has had few clunkers that inflate his numbers. As Ace has been outpitching his FIP all season, Mike noted, this period of mediocrity could just be the ever-popular market correction.
After his poor outing against the Red Sox on Sunday, Aceves spoke to reporters about his well-being, and as Peter Abraham reported, Aceves is feeling banged up. “I think my body is adjusting,” he said of relieving.
Aceves had been a starter for his entire Mexican League career and last year with the Yankees. This is the first year he has pitched out of the bullpen, and according to Abraham, Aceves feel it has “taken a physical toll.” After recovering from his sore shoulder, Aceves is now dealing with a sore lower back. “It’s not perfect, but I can pitch,” Aceves said to The Journal-News reporter. “This is my job now. I think I’m going to be fine.”
While the Yankees, on a micro level, need Aceves’ versatile down the stretch, on a macro level, his complaints provide a glimpse into the world of starters-turned-relievers. As Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain have shown, good pitchers make for great relievers. It’s easier for a pitcher to use his best pitches in short stints. He doesn’t have to mix and match to fool hitters during the second or third time through the lineup.
Yet, that transition is not without its risks. For starters used to the physical toll of a five-man rotation — start, ice, rest, throw day, rest, start — life in the bullpen is of a different nature. Pitchers have to prepare to go long but may faced with a five-pitch or nine-pitching outing. They may get the call on consecutive days or on opposite ends of a calendar week.
As the Yankees confront the reality of Phil Hughes in the bullpen and Joba Chamberlain in the starting rotation, the coaches and training staff are well aware of the physical toll of relief work. It’s why they don’t want to put Joba in the bullpen to cap his innings. How they handle Aceves down the stretch should provide a glimpse into how they plan to approach Phil Hughes’ transition back to the rotation next year. Meanwhile, with a seven-game lead and a Magic Number of 32, the Yanks can afford to rest Ace as his physical ailments require. Better now than in October.