- Keith Law, ESPN Insider
By now you've probably read about the 25-inning game yesterday between the University of Texas and Boston College, which featured incredible performances by Texas reliever Austin Wood (13 innings, 169 pitches) and BC reliever Mike Belfiore (9.2 innings, 129 pitches) to keep the game scoreless into the small hours. However, we must not overlook the unconscionable decisions by Texas coach Augie Garrido and BC coach Mikio Aoki to expose two talented young pitchers to potential arm injuries, demonstrating not only poor judgment but willful ignorance of the connection between overuse and arm injuries.
Wood's total of 169 pitches is the second-highest official pitch count of any Division I pitcher this season, although analyst Boyd Nation (whose Pitch Count Watch page is the source for this information) estimates that a handful of other outings came in around 170 pitches. Of course, all of those figures are for starters who were working on at least five full days' rest -- typically six -- and whose arms had become accustomed to throwing 100-plus pitches each week. Wood was moved to the 'pen this year and is now used to throwing only a couple of innings at a time ... and he had thrown 30 pitches the night before, so he was already at less than 100 percent.
Of course, Garrido is a legend in college baseball, and it is unlikely he'll be sanctioned or even criticized much in Texas baseball, but the truth is that his treatment of Wood was reckless, selfish and incompetent. Garrido commented after the game that as he and the pitching coach were discussing replacing Wood -- it's not clear whether it was the 140th pitch or the 150th that made it seem like a good idea to get someone up in the 'pen behind Wood -- the pitcher himself said, "I'm not coming out of this game," and therefore, Garrido left the kid in. One wonders if Garrido also allows his players to set the lineup and send in pinch runners for themselves. (Wood himself said after the game, "I can't believe I pitched 13 innings. But that's what they wanted me to do," which seems to put the blame back on Garrido.)
Despite the outrageous decision by Garrido to ride Wood to the point where the kid will be lucky if he can comb his own hair, the more serious implications revolve around Belfiore, another full-time reliever whose previous season high was three innings in one game. Belfiore is a legitimate top-two-rounds draft prospect, and in the words of one scout to whom I spoke this morning, "he's probably damaged goods" as a result of the overusage.
Belfiore came into the game with just 38.2 innings for the entire spring across 24 appearances, and like Wood, he had pitched the day before, throwing 20 pitches and allowing two runs to score in a long inning of work. If Belfiore suffers any major injury as a result of his overuse this weekend, he would stand to lose out on much or all of his potential signing bonus in next week's draft, which in his case would mean several hundred thousand dollars. It's also possible that he and Wood suffered damage that won't be discovered until after they're drafted, and their pro careers will be cut short because two college coaches decided to abdicate their responsibilities to their players because it was more important to win a single postseason game.
It doesn't matter that Garrido has won five championships, or that Aoki is a young coach in just his third year. Both made inexcusable and unconscionable decisions to put their own self-interests ahead of the interests of their players -- who, of course, are not paid for their efforts -- and did so in a way that demonstrated complete ignorance of the widely known connection between overuse and arm injuries.
Sending any college pitcher, especially one with a pro future, out there to throw three or four times as many pitches as his arm is accustomed to throwing, and doing so when his arm is already fatigued from an outing the day before, is a firing offense. Both coaches should be terminated immediately before they get another chance to blow out anyone else's arm.
"Gutsy" and "courageous" are two ways to describe the epic performances by UT's Austin Wood and BC's Mike Belfiore. "Inexcusable" and "unconscionable" is how Keith Law describes their coaches' decision to stick with them despite absurd pitch counts.