Count Wedge's quick hook as a mistake in the numbers game

The Baltimore Sun

The fans who suffered through the Orioles' 7-1 loss to Cleveland on Wednesday were robbed by Indians manager Eric Wedge of seeing a little baseball history.

Indians history, anyway.

Scott Lewis, 24, had thrown 96 pitches in eight shutout innings when Wedge brought in reliever Masahide Kobayashi to start the ninth.

If Lewis had remained in and completed a scoreless inning, he would have become the first Indian to throw a shutout in his major league debut since Luis Tiant blanked the New York Yankees on July 19, 1964 - 44 years ago.

Now that would have been something special. But it was thwarted by a religious adherence to the pitch-count gods.

Lewis had thrown just 17 pitches in his past two innings, had retired eight straight and held a 7-0 lead in a meaningless September game. But, remember, he had thrown nearly 100 pitches and this is 2008. Young starters are almost contractually obligated to leave the mound when they approach triple digits in pitches these days.

"We thought about taking him out after the seventh inning," Wedge said. "We wanted to keep him under 100 pitches."

In comparison, the Orioles' Chris Waters was lifted after eight innings of shutout ball in his major league debut in August. But he had already thrown 104 pitches, and it was a tight 3-0 game and a save situation for George Sherrill.

That decision was understandable. Wedge's wasn't.

Let the kid try to get the shutout - what an accomplishment that would have been. If he struggled with the first few batters in the ninth, then bring in a reliever.

Regardless, it was a great performance by Lewis. Just not a historic one.

A bullpen break

Remember the 2006 offseason, when the Orioles took a stuffed checkbook into the winter and doled out $42 million to four relievers in an attempt to fix their leaky 'pen?

The risky proposition was panned privately by several general managers because of the volatility of relievers' performances from one season to the next.

Those criticisms proved correct, of course. Jamie Walker was excellent in the first season of his three-year, $12 million deal but has struggled this year. And he's the only one pitching for the club now.

Chad Bradford (three years, $10.5 million) was traded in August. Danys Baez (three years, $19 million) is on the 60-day disabled list attempting to come back from ligament-reconstruction surgery. And Scott Williamson (one year, $900,000) was released last season.

It could have been worse. The Orioles' No. 1 relief target that offseason was Justin Speier, whom the Los Angeles Angels signed to a four-year, $18 million deal.

Speier battled injuries last season and has been awful this year, losing eight of his first nine decisions with an ERA lingering around 5.00. He's in danger of losing his roster spot for the postseason.

In retrospect, it was a rare Orioles nonmove that worked out.

Local kid making good

Jon Kibler, a Calvert Hall graduate and Freeland resident, was named as the Detroit Tigers' minor league Pitcher of the Year after going 14-5 with a league-best 1.75 ERA for Class A West Michigan.

Kibler, 22, is an impressive story of perseverance. Out of high school, he went to Western Carolina University and then came back to pitch at Dundalk Community College before attending Michigan State as a junior.

The Tigers drafted the 6-foot-5 control artist in the 30th round of the 2007 draft, and he's now one of the most promising pitchers in their system after allowing just 135 base runners (and striking out 126) in 154 1/3 innings this year.

Kibler's claim to fame is that he was the winning pitcher for Youse's Orioles - the under-20 powerhouse that has won six consecutive All-American Amateur Baseball Association national championships - in their 2006 title game.

"He's just a great kid. He really works hard and attacks hitters," said Orioles scout Dean Albany, who manages Youse's. "That's just great for him that he would be recognized."

Loving Lou

The Chicago Cubs are fighting lackluster play, immense fan pressure, 100 years of history and even a recent hurricane as they try to get back to the postseason.

But they at least have baseball's greatest battler on their side: manager Lou Piniella, 65. If the Cubs collapse, it won't be because of Piniella's lack of intensity.

Last week, he blasted his club for a listless start to the stretch run.

"You can talk about having fun, talk about relaxing," Piniella said. "You've got to get your shirt [sleeve] rolled up and go out and kick somebody's [butt]. Period. Period."

Cubs pitcher Ted Lilly, for one, liked Piniella's verbal shots.

"Piniella might be over 100, but he still has a lot of fire," Lilly joked.

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