Thursday, March 22, 2007

Closed Call

Jonathan Papelbon may be young, but he's been around enough to realize a salient truth about baseball. The only role change a pitcher can make to limit his chance of arm injury is to go play the outfield instead.

Papelbon told Red Sox manager Terry Francona today he'd rather return to his 2006 job as closer than be the starter he'd tried to become in spring training. This exempts Papelbon from the need to ever buy his skipper a birthday or Christmas present. The decision also showed a neat grasp of logic. Baseball's a difficult game. Someone who masters one of its trades is pushing his luck to seek another.

The notion starting would put less stress on Papelbon's right shoulder than would closing never quite made sense. Wouldn't pitching 80-90 innings in the course of 162-game season be LESS stressful than pitching around 200 innings in the same time? The proposition was irrelevant anyhow. A century and a half of the game's history teaches us pitchers are at the same risk no matter how often they pitch, how they pitch, or how old they are. Kid or vet, righty or southpaw, starter, closer, or in-between, hurlers share the same chance of serious injury on every pitch-a damn fine one.

God didn't WANT man to pitch. The body's not meant to do it. Sooner or later, every pitcher in the big leagues copes with a serious lost-time injury. How well they do so determines the fate of their careers. That's not including the innumerable prospects who hurt their arms in the minors and are never heard from again.

Given those odds, Papelbon made the right call. He's already proven he can blow hitters away in the ninth inning. Why mess with innings 1-8? His shoulder will stand the gaff of pitching or it won't. It won't matter what the inning is if it can't.


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