A few years ago this article would've terrified me. The Mariners voluntarily increasing the workload of the most talented pitcher baseball's seen in two decades? That's suicide. You have to be tender with these kids, lest they blow their arms out and send you tumbling down a path of regret.
"He's trying to become a man, and we're not letting him. It's time to let him."
...only, no, not so much. Skip ahead to the second part of the article and you'll see this:
If Hernandez is sailing, his delivery is in sync and everything is smooth, the green light will remain in place.
That's not stupid - that's perfect. It's exactly how a young pitcher should be treated. Counting innings is what's silly; 200 frames for Gil Meche are way different than 200 frames for, say, Roy Halladay, and the total barely even gives you an approximation of workload and stress level. It's something of a barometer, since a guy with 100 innings will generally have less wear and tear than someone with twice as many, but it's incredibly inefficient, to the point where it's not even worth monitoring when there are better alternatives available. Which there are.
Innings sometimes provide a ballpark estimate, but pitch context and mechanical consistency tell you much much more. If Pitcher A throws 90 pitches and allows ten baserunners in five innings, while Pitcher B throws 110 pitches and allows six baserunners in seven innings, Pitcher A's going to be doing more damage to himself, since he's working in more stressful situations. That's what wears a guy out and puts him at risk for injury - having to focus on every individual pitch with men on is way more tiring than cruising through the bottom of the order with the bases empty. That much we know. So why not account for it when you're keeping track of a young pitcher's progress?
That's what the Mariners are evidently planning to do this year, and I, for one, am happy about it. For one thing, it makes Felix happier. For a second, it makes Felix safer. And for a third, if he's able to turn into the efficient groundball machine of which he's shown flashes in the past, it makes Felix last longer in games, which works to our benefit. This is good news. Where the Mariners' heart was in the right place last year when they were counting Felix's innings, now they have the right idea to go with it. This organization hasn't been too good with handling young pitchers in the past, but this is definitely a positive step.
The only question is whether or not this coaching staff is actually qualified to evaluate when Felix is and isn't getting tired. After all, since he's a confident little guy who's never going to ask his own way out of a ballgame, the onus will be on the guys in the dugout to make the right call. Me, I'm willing to trust them. For all of Mike Hargrove's problems, handling the starting pitcher has never really been one of them (he's certainly nothing like Bob Melvin in that regard), and Chaves has worked with Felix long enough to know when he's on his game and when he's near the end of the line. The only reason not to trust these guys is that Mike Hargrove's involved, and things in which Mike Hargrove's involved usually turn to poop, but that doesn't strike me as a particularly compelling argument against the new Felix management idea. The guy may be dull, and old, and a poor strategist, and functionally illiterate, but I forgot where I was going with this. The point is, I'm not too frightened, because I don't see any good reason to be.
The fate of the 2007 Mariners rests on the broad shoulders of a Venezuelan phenom, and now he's ready to fight without the kid gloves. Look out, America. Felix is coming.