It has been said countless times that "pitching wins championships." That old adage may indeed be true, and that's what makes Big League pitching so valuable. With 30 Major League clubs, and fifth starters the modern day norm, many pitchers in the game today would have never made the grade in decades past.
That's why teams covet good pitchers, both young and old. Young guys are often cheaper and have less "mileage" on their throwing arms. The downside is that they are less experienced than older, more seasoned veterans.
Mike Timlin is very experienced; the 42-year-old reliever is the active leader among major league pitchers, with 1,011 appearances to start the season.
But Timlin, as would be expected, has become more susceptible to injury as he's gotten older. Timlin had been healthy since 2001, when he went on the DL because of knee surgery. But he's now been on the DL four times since the start of the 2006 season, when he was sidelined with a strained shoulder. Then he opened 2007 on the DL with a strained oblique muscle, and later went back on the DL with shoulder tendinitis. Those injuries limited him to 50 appearances last season. And Timlin missed the first nine games of this season with a lacerated ring finger on his pitching hand.
The rust showed immediately upon return last weekend; Timlin gave up home runs to the first batter he faced both Friday night and Sunday night against the Yankees. In each case, it was Jason Giambi, who had not hit a home run against anyone else this season After Giambi's home run Sunday, Jose Molina and Melky Cabrera singled, making opposing hitters 5 for 5 against Timlin in 2008. It was not the kind of return the veteran pitcher had planned.
But Timlin bounced back last night, pitching a 1-2-3 eighth, earning the win against Cleveland. Yet he is 42, with a history of injuries -- the shoulder issues being the most troubling.
To make room Timlin on the 25-man roster, the Red Sox designated 34-year-old righty Bryan Corey for assignment. Kyle Snyder had previously been designated to make room for the returning Josh Beckett. Both pitchers are younger and healthier than Timlin. But neither was consistent.
Why weren't Snyder and Corey just sent down to Pawtucket? They were out of options.
Each player can be optioned three times. One option is expended per year, regardless of how many times the player goes back and forth from Pawtucket. After three seasons of being called up and sent down, he is out of options and can no longer be returned to the minors without first clearing waivers. That means every other team in the major leagues has a chance to claim him for a nominal waiver fee.
The Sox ran into that same problem with 27-year-old, lefty-reliever Craig Breslow, who was out of options and subsequently designated for assignment at the end of Spring Training. The Indians promptly claimed Breslow and he is now on their big league roster.
But the 30-year-old Snyder was not claimed by another team. He cleared waivers and accepted an outright assignment to Triple A Pawtucket. And so far Corey has elicited little interest from other clubs either. Since pitching is at such a premium, why aren't teams more interested in Snyder and Corey? The simple answer is that they are viewed as fringe players by other clubs, who would be in the same position as the Sox, unable to option the pitchers out if they wanted to send them to the minors. Perhaps Corey could find his way back to Pawtucket within days as well.
That may be a good thing for the Sox. Having pitchers with Big League experience just a phone call, and 60 miles, away in Pawtucket could prove quite valuable. The season is long and injuries are sure to occur to Sox pitchers. You never know, Mike Timlin could again be one of them.
Another old adage goes like this: "You can never have enough pitching."