By Tom Verducci
July 30, 2010

Washington Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg has been shut down with inflammation in his throwing shoulder, and as much as the club portrayed the decision as highly conservative, nine starts into his major league career he quickly has a red flag affixed to him.

Strasburg seems to be dealing with the natural stress and fatigue of learning how to pitch in a five-man professional rotation, rather than having the extra recovery time and shorter season that comes with college ball. It's the pitching equivalent of the wall hit by NBA rookies when they make the jump from a shorter college season. But is there more to it?

White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper, speaking to MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM on Thursday, voiced a concern that some pitching gurus previously noted about Strasburg's manner of throwing a baseball. As he loads the baseball, his elbows raise higher than his shoulders -- forming what pitching coaches call an inverted W -- and the back of his shoulders pinch toward one another in the "scap loading" portion of the delivery. Such a delivery, some pitching coaches believe, puts him at greater risk of shoulder fatigue.

Cooper called it "an upside-down arm action." One major league pitching coach years ago told me about the exact same concern about Mark Prior -- before Prior broke down.

"He does something with his arm action that is difficult, in my mind, to pitch a lot of innings on," Cooper said about Strasburg.

(Side note: was Bob Feller the last pitching phenom to make the Hall of Fame? Think about some of the biggest drawing cards: Prior, Kerry Wood, Dontrelle Willis, Hideo Nomo, Dwight Gooden, J.R. Richard, Fernando Valenzuela, Mark Fidrych.... seems being so good so fast is not a great predictor for the Hall.)

If I were the Nationals, I would be concerned (though, really, there's not much they can do; a delivery can be tweaked, but not the basic way the body moves to throw a baseball). Why? Because nobody in major league baseball knows more about pitching durability than Cooper. The White Sox coach may not get the publicity of the Cardinals' Dave Duncan and has no Cy Young Award winners to brag about, but he's the best in the business at keeping his guys healthy and pitching deep into games.

Take a look at this list: it's the number of 200-inning seasons by pitchers for each club since 2003, Cooper's first full season with the White Sox.

1. Chicago White Sox, 212. Chicago Cubs, 143. Boston Red Sox, 134. Arizona Diamondbacks, 12St. Louis Cardinals, 12New York Yankees, 12Los Angeles Angels, 12Minnesota Twins, 12

That is impressive. The White Sox are 50 percent better than the second-best team in baseball when it comes to durable pitchers.

And now the flip side: the worst teams in baseball over the previous seven seasons when it comes to 200-inning pitchers:

30. Baltimore Orioles, 429. Kansas City Royals, 5Tampa Bay Rays, 5Texas Rangers, 5Pittsburgh Pirates, 5San Diego Padres, 5

That said, would Cooper have taken Strasburg if given the chance. Of course he would have, but he would have done so fully aware that there would be a high likelihood of breaking down because of the upside-down arm action.

• Thanks to a new ballpark and its revenues, it sure is a new era in Minnesota. Who could have thought the Twins would dump a top prospect, catcher Wilson Ramos, to get a reliever, Matt Capps? Sure, Capps makes their bullpen marginally better, but after watching Dan Haren and Roy Oswalt traded, the Twins' shortcoming as a playoff team remains a starting rotation that doesn't bring enough pure stuff to October. Opposing batters have a .441 slugging percentage against Twins starters -- the highest such mark in the league other than the lowly Royals and Orioles.

• Texas, already playoff-bound, made one of those punch-list July moves in getting Jorge Cantu from Florida. First baseman Chris Davis is the Rangers' Brandon Wood, a guy who keeps handing back chances to nail down a job. Cantu is having a poor season, batting just .262 with a .310 on-base percentage, but he is something of an established run producer who has carried the responsibility of hitting in the middle of an order.

The Rangers are crazy if they even think about Cantu at second base while Ian Kinsler is out, and he shouldn't be on the field at first base in the late innings of games with a lead. Davis is a fine caddie and a nice option against some right-handed pitchers. But the Rangers need to actually win a postseason series one of these years, and starting Davis, especially against any left-hander, in October is not the way to go about it. Cantu will help.

• Nice move by the Padres to get Miguel Tejada. They need any offensive help they can get, even if Tejada has no regular job. He can still hit and will be energized in a playoff race. One caution: The Padres, even with their abysmal hitting at shortstop, would be wise not to overexpose Tejada at that position, not when pitching and defense mean so much to the club.

Now that Chris Coghlanblew out a knee with one of those ubiquitous postgame pies, can we just get rid of the whole, tired pie thing? Spare us. It's become the Macarena of baseball.

And besides, commissioner Bud Selig ought to put an end to this form of cheating. Those are not even pies. They are plates of shaving cream or whipped cream, hackneyed insults to Marie Callender. Some plates, good heavens, are made of paper.

Instead of worrying about blood tests for human growth hormone, the commissioner ought to be focused on ridding the game of these fake pies. If players are going to throw pies, they shouldn't have to cheat. Think about the example being set for children and culinary school students. Only the real things should be allowed: real gobs of cherries, apples or blueberries waiting to splatter out from between layers of home-baked crust.

So step up to the pie tin, Mr. Commissioner. You don't need to bargain with the union on this one. It's time to ban the faux pas that is the faux pie.

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