Removing pitchers in the middle of no-hitters is getting to be downright commonplace these days.
Eight days after Twins manager Ron Gardenhire raised eyebrows for removing pitcher Kevin Slowey after 106 pitches over seven no-hit innings, Rangers manager Ron Washington did something similar with Rich Harden yesterday.
In Slowey’s case, he had recently been shelved due to elbow soreness, and his long-term effectiveness was more important to his manager than a longshot chance at finishing a no-hitter with an elevated pitch count.
Harden did Slowey one better, throwing his gem in his first start off the disabled list. A seventh-inning walk to Michael Cuddyer raised his pitch count to 111, with Jim Thome at the plate and the tying run on deck. It was all Washington needed to see.
Harden had no chance of throwing 150 pitches on the day—which is what it would have taken to complete the game at the pace he had set—and already possessed a storied injury history.
As pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, oddities about the moment were plentiful.
• Slowey was watching the action from the Minnesota bench.
• The plate umpire was Jim Joyce, himself at the center of a no-hitter controversy earlier this year when he incorrectly ruled that what would have been the final hitter of Armando Galarraga’s would-be perfect game reached base safely.
• New Rangers owner Nolan Ryan—he of seven (full) no-hitters—was watching the game from the front row.
There may be no more prominent opponent of strict pitch counts than Ryan. Ron Washington is acutely aware of this. That he made the move anyway speaks to his conviction about the subject.
“He threw 111 pitches,” Ryan said of Harden in an MLB.com report. “He kept his stuff the whole time, but Ron didn’t have a choice but to take him out. You have to protect the player and do what’s best for the team. Ron did the right thing and Rich knew it.”
The no-hitter was broken up in the ninth, when Joe Mauer singled against close Neftali Feliz. If Harden needed a shoulder to cry on, Kevin Slowey was just down the hall.