Reigning American League Cy Young winner David Price threw 100 pitches in his first start of the 2013 season for the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday. His day ended in a no decision, and Price is next scheduled to pitch Sunday against the Cleveland Indians.
Such is the typical workload of a starting pitcher in Major League Baseball.
If Price played high school ball in Japan, he would be seen as weak.
In a fascinating story by Yahoo! Sports, Jeff Passan delves into the life of 16-year-old Tomohiro Anraku, who threw 772 pitches over a five-game, nine-day span in Japan’s most prominent baseball tournament known as Koshien.
That unheard of stretch and stress on a young arm included a first start of “232 pitches over 13 innings.”
The question is brought up of whether Anraku’s coach is abusing his pitcher, who even at 16 can clock 94 mph on the radar gun, or if it is a matter of a cultural divide. The thinking in Japanese baseball circles is that a pitcher should throw and throw and throw to perfect their mechanics, and thus relieve stress on their arm later.
Also, should a player push themselves at Koshien, which is celebrated with the similar fervor Americans express for the World Series, they are seen as strong and brave, and could even earn a legacy in Japan.
American baseball teams at every level, especially in the Majors, closely monitor pitch counts, and rarely does a player go above 120 pitches in a single game due to the numerous debilitating injuries pitchers can sustain.
Passan also talks about pressure within a Japanese player’s family, but that it could swing the other way.
Twenty-six-year-old Texas Rangers starter Yu Darvish, a native of Japan, came one out away from pulling off the 24th perfect game in MLB history on Tuesday, but may not have had the opportunity to do so if his arm had been tested like Anraku’s. Passan cites Darvish’s father, Farsad, and his influence to make sure his son was not overworked.
Darvish pitched in four Koshiens as a youngster, but just 92 innings in 12 games, and that might have helped elongate his career, according to Passan.
Some Japanese pitchers have struggled in the Majors due to arm problems. Daisuke Matsuzaka, who joined the Boston Red Sox in 2007 but is now in the Cleveland Indians' minor league affiliate at age 32, has not pitched a full season since his first seasonin the Majors. Wear and tear built up in his arm from his high school years and time in the Japanese leagues has been a contributing factor to his lack of durability.
Whether Anraku ends up like Darvish or Matsuzaka remains to be seen. He is a junior, and has two more Koshien tournaments next year to outlast before the pros.