Nine innings? Complete relics
Starters not going distance is norm nowadays
Kyle Hendricks faced the Diamondbacks on Friday night at Chase Field knowing that throwing a complete game was unlikely.
In the first four weeks of the season heading into Friday’s games, only four starters had thrown one: Derek Holland, Mike Minor, Jameson Taillon and German Marquez. Hendricks has only three complete games in his career and none since 2016.
“I think it’s dying off,” Hendricks said Thursday at Wrigley Field. “You’re definitely not seeing a lot of them. I would love to throw one if I’m in that situation and my pitch count is low and I can go out for the ninth. But when I go into a game, it’s not a goal of mine necessarily.
“We go into the game and it’s just trying to make the first good pitch and go from there, try to get as many outs as you can with that. It’s not our job to make the move. It’s definitely dying off and for good reason. There are so many good arms in the back of the bullpen now that you’d rather have a fresh guy coming out than a guy that’s tiring.”
Hendricks was coming off his best outing of the season, throwing seven shutout innings and striking out 11 in a win over the Diamondbacks on April 19 at Wrigley. He threw 100 pitches for the first time in his four starts.
On Friday, he took a step back, allowing seven earned runs on 10 hits in five innings against the Diamondbacks in an 8-3 loss.
Jose Quintana, who is scheduled to start Sunday, also is coming off his highest pitch count — 114 in seven innings Monday against the Dodgers — while Cole Hamels was allowed to throw a season-high 112 pitches the next day in a 5 1⁄3-inning outing that included six walks.
With an inconsistent bullpen and a dominating rotation the last two weeks, manager Joe Maddon has put more trust in his starters.
“Definitely, we’ve talked about how we want to carry the load and we like to put that on our shoulders,” Hendricks said. “Joe knows that too. He has a real good eye, and he knows us all so well by this point, he can see when a guy is rolling and when a guy is not. With ‘Q’ the other night, he’s been so locked in, and when he’s like that and staying in his mechanics, Joe knows he can roll him out there for 100-plus (pitches).
“We know we have to prove it and make the pitches to get his trust to do that, but if we execute and do what we need to do, then he’ll let us roll. We know it’s kind of under our control and in our power, so it’s one of our goals when we go out there.”
The obituary for the complete game was written years ago, so no need to send condolence cards. The high price of starting pitching, the proliferation of relievers with 95-plus mph fastballs and analytics showing exactly when a starter’s effectiveness has peaked were all contributing factors to its demise.
None of these factors was under consideration 99 years ago Monday, when Brooklyn Robins starter Leon Cadore and Boston Braves starter Joe Oeschger dueled for 26 innings in Boston in a game that ended in a 1-1 tie. Cadore allowed one run on 15 hits with five walks and seven strikeouts. Oeschger allowed one run on nine hits with four walks and seven strikeouts.
Pitch counts weren’t recorded, though the game lasted 3 hours, 50 minutes, much like a modern-day, nine-inning Yankees-Red Sox game.
What were the effects of throwing nearly three complete games in one afternoon? Former Tribune baseball writer Jerome Holtzman wrote Cadore a letter in 1956 asking about the game and later published parts of Cadore’s response:
“You ask, do I think the long game had any effect on my arm, etc.? Well, all I can say, first, it surely was a good alibi; second, all I know, while this was comparatively young in the season — May 1 was the first day of Daylight Saving Time, which made it possible to go the 26-inning route — I felt I had to press a little harder to get the same stuff on the ball that I could do effortless, so to speak, before the long game.
“I couldn’t raise my right arm for a couple of days after the big one, and as far as sleeping for a couple days, well, that is for the birds. Sure, I was tired and did do a little sleeping, which reminds me that Wilbert Robinson, our manager then, in the 20th inning asked if I was getting tired.
“I remember saying, ‘Sure, but I can go one more,’ figuring something just had to happen one way or the other, and that is the way it went to the 26th. The umpires huddled and decided it would be a shame had either pitcher lost a game like this and called it. True, maybe a couple of more innings could have been played. But what a crime it would have been to have a loss marked up against either pitcher.”
Sleeping still is for the birds 99 years later, but letting a pitcher stay in a game so long he couldn’t raise his arm for a couple of days would amount to managerial malpractice, even if it’s 120 pitches instead of 26 innings. But if you came of age when Fergie Jenkins and Bob Gibson frequently were locked in pitching duels that both refused to leave, you feel a little sad there’s little chance of seeing one starter go all nine innings, much less both.
As much as it makes sense to lift starters for fresher arms, I still miss watching complete games.
“So do I,” Hendricks said. “I loved watching them as a fan growing up. I loved the pitching duels. But there’s not too many of them anymore.”
On those rare occasions they do occur, you appreciate them a lot more.
Kyle Hendricks delivers a first-inning pitch Friday night against the Diamondbacks. He has three complete games in his career.