Dave Stewart says if Major League Baseball teams want to stop losing so many young players to arm injuries, pitchers need to start throwing more, not less.
The four-time 20 game winner and member of the 1993 World Series Champion Toronto Blue Jays chimed in on one of baseball’s hot button issues earlier this week while in Toronto for Joe Carter’s charity golf tournament.
“You need to have the guys throw more,” he said. “When I was coming up in the minors (with the Dodgers) we played winter ball. The Dodgers’ requirement was in the minor leagues you had to pitch 800 innings (total) before being called up, so we threw a lot coming up because that was the requirement.”
A reliever for the first seven years of his career, Stewart didn’t become a full-time starter until 1987 at the age of 30. After making 17 starts and logging 149 innings between the Oakland A’s bullpen and rotation in 1986, Stewart made 37 starts in 1987, piling up 261 innings and tossing eight complete games.
Today if a pitcher saw a year-over-year innings increase like that, he’d be a candidate – or at least suspect— for arm trouble the following year, but more likely, his club simply wouldn’t allow him to throw that many innings in the first place.
But instead of breaking down in 1988, Stewart made another 37 starts, pitched 14 complete games and logged a league-high 275 innings. From ’89-’92 Stewart led the AL in starts each season while piling up innings totals of 257, 267 and 226 respectively.
“I had some arm injuries, sure, but normally my injuries were just arm soreness and I was able to make it through the year,” said Stewart, who since retirement in 1995 has worked as a big-league pitching coach with three MLB teams, including Toronto. “I was pitching 260-270 innings so there’s nothing general about (the soreness). There’s pitching injuries, but you suck it up and you make it through it.”
Stewart believes bad mechanics can play a role in injuries, but not the use of specific pitches such as a cutter or slider. He says the way teams now manage their minor league pitching prospects and major league staffs is completely foreign to him.
“There are fewer complete games, fewer innings pitched, the whole idea of pitching to me is different from how I worked with my guys as a pitching coach and how I was used as a pitcher,” he said. “The whole philosophy of pitching is different now. Put down the exercise bands and pick up a ball.”
The 1989 World Series MVP and two-time ALCS MVP (’90, ’93) says he is a fan of the Texas Rangers plans under team president Nolan Ryan to stretch out their starters from top to bottom in the organization. Stewart feels it’s a simple solution to a complicated problem, but one that front offices and the pitchers themselves need to show a little faith in.
“My taekwondo teacher taught me if you chain an elephant to a pole and he can only go 16 feet in circumference, all he learns to do is walk that 16 feet in a circle and he never tires to break free even though he has the strength the do it,” he said.