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We hear it during every game. No matter the team, the broadcaster or the network, at some point we’ll be made aware that the total number of pitches thrown by one of the game’s hurlers is approaching 100, as if we should expect the guy on the mound to spontaneously combust if he dares to throw 101. It’s the magic/tragic number that’s been set over the course of the last decade as young mound aces secure increasingly higher signing bonuses and franchises seek to protect their investments. Unfortunately, the practice has spawned a generation of pitchers with no experience making late game adjustments in order to finish a game while fatigued.

A generation ago, it was commonplace for a pitcher to log more than 250 innings per season. In 1975, the game’s initial big money free agent, Catfish Hunter, registered 30 complete games over his 328 innings during his first season as a Yankee. Hall of Famers like Jim Palmer, Ferguson Jenkins, Steve Carlton and Gaylord Perry all eclipsed 300 innings more than once. Perhaps the most durable of this or any era was Nolan Ryan, current President of the Texas Rangers, who played until he was 47, even spinning two of his seven career no hitters after his 40th birthday. Of the many eye popping statistics that document his career, my favorite is this: He once threw 250 pitches in a 14 inning complete game win. That Ryan’s career lasted 26 years despite such an enormous workload was a function of his ability to get in shape over 40 rather than an adherence to the limitations of pitch counts. It’s a philosophy he’s passing on to his young charges in Texas.

Since moving into his new office, Ryan has sought to re-educate his organization as to how success on the mound is attained by banishing the use of the pitch count in determining how long a pitcher stays in the game. Coaches will still keep track of the number but will not use it to evaluate whether or not a pitcher should be pulled. Mike Maddux, Rangers’ pitching coach, agrees that you don’t need a pitch count to know when a pitcher is done. “The hitters let you know that”, said Maddux. “The ceiling is off,” continued Maddux. “This is a mental thing we have to overcome. We have to change the attitude of the starters to want to go deep and believe they can.” Ryan also established a year round fitness program for pitchers that will help them get in shape and be able to log more innings. Referring to his own career, Ryan noted that he, “had to develop stamina because it was my intent to pitch a lot of innings.” So far, the plan seems to be working as the Rangers’ staff, expected to be the team’s weak link coming into the season, has registered five complete games in leading Texas to the top of the AL West.

Ryan, a guy whose weight training and conditioning over 40 helped get him to Cooperstown, told the Dallas Morning News what he expects from his staff. “The dedication and work ethic that it takes to pitch an entire season as a starting pitcher and the discipline to continue to maintain his routine all year. And he wants the ball every fifth day and he’s going to go out there with the intent of pitching late into games and not complaining.”

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