In for John Hickey this week …
Pitchers who work quickly and throw strikes have always been manager favorites, but they are also the sportswriters’ favorites. We always liked to see Greg Maddux coming, and Mark Mulder, and Mike Mussina.
And yes, Bartolo Colon, any time, anywhere. Even in Rangers Ballpark. Actually, especially at Rangers Ballpark.
If life truly does begin at 40, Colon is just settling in for a long career. Four days shy of his 40th birthday, he threw seven sharp innings and allowed two runs against the team with the best record in baseball and one that has been red-hot of late. Moreover, he did it in the Rangers’ park, which has become like a second home to him. He’s won his last six starts in Arlington, despite his “here, try and hit it this fastball” approach.
Colon just seems to keep getting better with age. OK, last year he got better with some artificial help. But by all indications, he’s clean this year and there has been no apparent drop-off. If anything, he’s pitching even better. He’s walked four batters all season in 54 1/3 innings, and two came Monday night in the A’s 9-2 victory.
You’re tempted to call him a painter, but he doesn’t paint. He just attacks. Right down the middle in some cases, as he did with the first pitch to Adrian Beltre in the fourth inning with a man on. Two-seam fastball, Beltre knew it was coming, but it had just enough tail on it he couldn’t square it up. Grounder to short, 6-4-3.
Young pitchers often make pitching too hard. They nibble. They’re afraid a fastball down the middle is always going to get mashed, particularly if they can only throw it in the low 90 mph range. Consequently, they dig themselves holes in the count and then have to come in with a hitter’s pitch. Colon is almost always 0-2 or 1-2 and he puts hitters on the defensive. He gives up his share of hits, but he doesn’t beat himself. Bob Melvin loves everything about him.
“His demeanor, his professionalism, you’d think a guy like him would be a great resource for other starting pitchers, and a lot of it is just by example,” Melvin said. “He just goes out there and does his thing. He doesn’t talk too much and when he does people listen, but just the way he goes about his business, prepares for his outings — our younger starters see that as well — and at 40 years old, he’s still effective and throwing strikes. There’s something to be said for throwing strikes.”
He’s also is total command of himself mentally.
“You don’t know if you’re up five, down five or in a close game,” the manager said. “That’s what you want. You can never see any trepidation in what he’s doing, even if he’s getting hit around a little bit. He still seems like the same guy out there.”
The A’s admit there was a little concern how effectively Colon would pitch in the wake of the PED suspension and whether he could pitch just as well “clean” as he did in winning 10 games last year before testing positive for synthetic testosterone.
“We’ve been monitoring that pretty closely, we’ve been watching the velocity, everything looks to be similar,” Melvin said. “He looks the same to me.”
The only thing the A’s want to watch is his pitch count relative to his age. He threw 95 pitches Monday night, and probably could have gone another inning, but he’d done his job throwing seven strong.
“He’s 40, and we want to try to get him through a season,” Melvin said. “So anything over 100 starts to get uncomfortable for me.”
Colon looks the same as he did five years ago when people thought he was old and fat and finished. And he takes care of himself pretty well. Asked how he will celebrate, he said he would just have a quiet dinner with wife.
After all, he has to be ready for that first start as a 40 year old Sunday in Houston.
My game story was all about how we haven’t really seen the real A’s without Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes in the lineup together for more than a month. But they’re 4-1 ever since they started together beginning last Wednesday, and 15-3 for the season, 9-19 with one or both missing. Pretty stark numbers.
Good thing the A’s padded their averages with 15 hits Monday. They get Yu Darvish Tuesday night.