It was a big deal Sunday, in a novelty kind of way, when Ron Gardenhire pulled Kevin Slowey from his start, despite the fact that his pitcher had not given up a hit to the A’s.
By almost all counts, it was the correct thing to do. It was Slowey’s first start since being skipped in the rotation due to elbow soreness, and he was on a short leash from the outset. He had thrown 106 pitches when he was pulled.
Some decry the concept of pitch counts in the modern game, but Slowey’s removal was not without precedent.
In 1997, Pittsburgh’s Francisco Cordova was lifted after 121 pitches and nine innings of no-hit ball against the Astros; reliever Ricardo Rincon worked one hitless frame and the Pirates won it in the 10th.
In the first combined no-hitter in National League history, Atlanta’s Kent Mercker was pulled after six innings in a 1991 game. It was just his second start of the year, after 44 relief appearances, most of which lasted just a single inning and none of which stretched beyond two. (Mark Wohlers and Alejandro Pena combined to shut down the Padres over the final three frames.)
Pitchers have been pulled from no-hitters because it’s early in the season (Anaheim’s Mark Langston was allowed only seven innings and 98 pitches against the Mariners in his first start of the 1991 campaign, which was reasonable after he got in only 16 innings of spring training work due to a lockout) and late (A’s pitcher Vida Blue threw five frames of no-hit ball against the Angels on the final day of the 1975 season before being removed to stay fresh for the playoffs.)
Then there was San Diego’s Clay Kirby, who was pulled from his 1970 no-hitter by manager Preston Gomez for a pinch hitter, because the Padres were losing and needed an offensive boost.
Gardenhire is in good company. If anyone still doubts his strategy, the bottom line is this: Slowey is still healthy enough to give it another go in his next start, and that counts more than anything.