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Kevin Slowey and the no-hitter that was never gonna happen

Aug 16, 2010, 1:48 PM EDT

Kevin Slowey was brilliant yesterday, no-hitting the A’s through seven innings, and many fans at Target Field in Minnesota booed when he didn’t come out for the eighth inning. And then they booed even louder when reliever Jon Rauch allowed a one-out hit on the way to giving up two runs.

However, it was absolutely the right call by Ron Gardenhire. Sure, he could have left Slowey in to start the eighth, but between his pitch count and elbow issues a no-hitter just wasn’t going to happen.

Slowey had his last start skipped due to elbow soreness and was slated to be on a relatively short leash yesterday. Those plans obviously changed somewhat when he failed to allow a hit through seven shutout innings, but Slowey was already at 106 pitches with six outs left to go. Under normal circumstances I’m sure the Twins would have given Slowey every opportunity to make history, but those weren’t normal circumstances.

He’s averaged 16.3 pitches per inning this year, including 15.1 pitches per inning yesterday, so realistically it likely would’ve taken at least 130 pitches to finish the no-hitter. His career-high is 114 pitches and he’s thrown more than 106 pitches just seven times in 76 starts, so allowing Slowey to throw 20-30 more pitches than ever before just days after elbow soreness kept him from taking his turn in the rotation would’ve been something between silly and irresponsible.

And for what, exactly? No-hitters are great and I certainly don’t blame anyone at Target Field for wanting to witness one in person, but there have been five (or six) no-hitters already this season and a total of 268 in baseball history. Allowing someone who missed his last start with elbow problems to go well beyond his previous career-high pitch count in an effort to get the six outs still needed to become No. 269 hardly seems worth any kind of risk.

When the best-case scenario is a 130-pitch no-hitter from a 26-year-old pitcher with a tender elbow that’s a pretty underwhelming best case and with two innings remaining the odds were still against Slowey actually completing the no-hitter. Leave him in and there’s a strong chance he ends up allowing a hit on, say, his 127th pitch, in which case the Twins would’ve gone from risking his health for a minimal reward to risking his health for zero reward.

All of which is more or less exactly how Gardenhire explained his through process afterward:

I would boo too. I mean, I was booing myself. But I also know what’s right, and that’s why I [pulled him]. I wanted to see a no-hitter myself, but I also know I’m responsible for this young man’s arm. You just can’t risk a guy’s career. I’m not going to do it. Slowey is coming off an elbow injury and we’re not about to even come close to risking this guy.

I’m not going to let him throw 125, 130 pitches. It’s just not going to happen. If he went back out for one more inning, he’d probably be up around 115, 120, and he’d be done anyway. There was no way he was going to finish, and we’re just not going to risk this young man. He’s got too big of a career ahead of him.

Judging by all the hugs and handshakes he was doling out in the dugout between the seventh and eighth innings Slowey wasn’t exactly crushed by the decision to pull him, although he did admit afterward: “I don’t think it would be possible not to be a little bit disappointed.” He also joined Gardenhire in seeing the decision as a smart one in the bigger picture:

More than anything I was encouraged. I was encouraged by the way it was presented to me, I was encouraged by the fact that Gardy and [pitching coach Rick Anderson] care a whole lot more about me as a person and as a pitcher in the long term than they do about winning one game, or having one accomplishment. I think that says a lot about them, and it says a lot about our organization.

Exactly, and I also think that reaction says a lot about Slowey.

  1. keg64 - Aug 16, 2010 at 2:30 PM

    Kudo’s to Gardenhire and Slowey for having the intelligence and maturity for doing what they know to be best for both the team and the young man himself in the long run. Having Mr. Slowey in the rotation for the next 5-7 years is much more valuable to both him and the Twins then something as transitory as a no-hitter. The Twins are in a race they can win, and it will certainly help them to have Slowey out there every 5th day.
    If managers are a reflection of institutional values, I’ll take the Twins model over the White Sox model anyday.

  2. josh - Aug 16, 2010 at 2:55 PM

    I was at the game yesterday, and I would totally risk the possibility of injury for the opportunity to see the 269th no-hitter in MLB history. I know it’s selfish and indulgent and myopic to want that, but those nine guys are playing the game for my city and for me. I endured 10 years of awful indoor baseball and a labor strike, so I think I should get the chance to see a pitcher throw 25 more pitches at the risk of possible further injury for an indelible memory that will last a lifetime. If it was Slowey’s decision to come out, fine. I can live with that.
    Maybe Slowey wins a World Series or Cy Young or becomes a Hall of Famer down the road. Maybe he gives up a hit on the first pitch thrown in the 8th. Maybe he hurts his elbow and is out for the season. I’d risk all of those outcomes for the chance, just the chance, to see the kid finish a no-no. Yesterday could have been Slowey’s day, yesterday could have been my memory, but Gardenhire decided to live for tomorrow instead. Fitting that yesterday was the 60th anniversary of Peanuts, because the game ended with a [sigh].

  3. bmoline - Aug 16, 2010 at 3:16 PM

    If you lose Slowey, the Twins playoff chances definitely take a hit. I can’t believe you’d risk a guy’s career to see a no-hitter. Wow…that’s the ultimate in selfishness right there.

  4. APBA Guy - Aug 16, 2010 at 3:18 PM

    Slowey was laboring in the seventh also, with a little less finesse. And no one has yet mentioned Repko’s great catch in left to keep the no-no intact. Absolutely the right call by the Twins. Slowey’s 26, same as Dallas Braden, and getting into the age group where you let a pitcher extend a little on special occasions, but not when they are just coming off an elbow injury.

  5. JBerardi - Aug 16, 2010 at 3:28 PM

    No-hitters are overrated.

  6. Eric Cioe - Aug 16, 2010 at 3:36 PM

    The real crime here is that none of the Twins pitchers are able to throw 120 pitches when need be, with the occasional exception of Liriano. Yes, they tend to get quick outs and that’s their philosophy and it works, but you can get quick outs and still be more durable than averaging 94 pitches per start.

  7. Reflex - Aug 16, 2010 at 5:08 PM

    So I guess you don’t care much about their post season chances, eh? They have no shot of going to the WS without Slowey. And believe me, a WS is worth a whole hell of a lot more than a no-hitter.

  8. Draft King - Aug 17, 2010 at 4:54 PM

    Multiple pitcher no-hitters are not unheard of in MLB history — there were two of them in 1991, for example. I can understand the frustration of the crowd, but I applaud the Twins for thinking of Slowey’s long-term health over the chance to complete a no hitter.

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