Today the Pirates called up Brandon Cumpton to make a spot start, due to the fact that Jeanmar Gomez and Jeff Locke both threw on Sunday. There was some discussion on the site today about the decision, with questions as to why Gomez and Locke couldn’t throw. The end result of all of this is that Locke was moved back a day, Gomez will go to the bullpen for the short-term, and Cumpton made his start instead of Gomez. So it’s not really a big deal that Cumpton started today. However, the feeling I got today was that a lot of people don’t know what a pitcher does between starts.
A pitcher’s workload is very detailed, and a pitcher is usually on a strict schedule. There could be different schedules for different pitchers, but in the minor leagues most of the pitchers have the following approach.
After Their Start: They get on the exercise bike or run laps in the outfield, looking to do some “flush” exercising. They’ll also do some arm care.
One Day After Their Start: This is the first off-day. They will do a lift and a heavy workout this day.
Two Days After Their Start: This is the day where they will throw a bullpen. The bullpen is usually in preparation for the next start, using all of their pitches and practicing for what they will see against their next opponent.
Three Days After Their Start: On this day they won’t throw a bullpen, but they will workout and loosen up their body in preparation for the next start.
Four Days After Their Start: Also known as the day before their next start. This is just a day off.
Five Days After Their Start: Usually the next start, unless there’s an off-day involved.
Like I said, not every pitcher is the same. But if we apply the above schedule to Locke and Gomez, you can see why they wouldn’t be ready.
Locke: He pitched on the 25th. His bullpen would have been the 28th, and five days rest actually would have been on Sunday, so that would have been his normal start day with no off-days. The reason he couldn’t go today was because he got warmed up to go in the game. Considering how well he has pitched, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to give him an extra day off after he warms up in the bullpen (and a starter warming up is different than a reliever warming up).
Gomez: He pitched on the 26th. He would have normally been scheduled to pitch on Wednesday, which means Monday and Tuesday would have been the workout and off-days. That would put Sunday as the bullpen day. That’s why Gomez couldn’t start today, because he threw that bullpen session on Sunday, in preparation for his next start, which was supposed to be on Wednesday. If you move him up to Tuesday, then you either take away the workout to get him loosened up, or you take away the day off before his start. In either case, it’s not really a good plan, since you’re altering his routine, and taking away one of the days that is aimed at protecting his arm.
I thought it would be interesting to share this, just because I don’t think many people realize what happens between starts. I know that I didn’t think about it much before I found out the routines. I just dismissed the time off as four days of rest before a pitcher throws again on the fifth day. The truth is that it’s a non-stop process, and it’s scheduled in detail. There are some cases where you can change the schedule and move a guy up, but you usually need to know that in advance. In almost every case it is easier to move a pitcher back a day, rather than moving a pitcher up one day. It’s also safer on the arm.
Maybe some view that as too protective and unnecessary. However, it’s not like the decision mattered much. Jeff Locke got moved back one day and Brandon Cumpton started instead of Jeanmar Gomez. Cumpton gave up three runs in 5.2 innings of work and didn’t get any help from the offense. That’s not a bad trade off in exchange for protecting the arms of Locke and Gomez.
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