Sunday, May 28, 2000

Too much work? Not for Reds bullpen




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        He grew up in rural Alabama, in a town that made Mayberry seem cosmopolitan. Scott Sullivan built up his arm throwing rocks and pine cones. There wasn't much else to do. He threw tin cans.

        He threw tomatoes and potatoes. There you have it. If you want your kids to grow up to be big-league pitchers, grow vegetables.

        Occasionally, Sullivan threw a baseball. The point was, he wasn't playing video games or watching MTV. “He was like a lot of us,” Reds bullpen Tom Hume guessed. “He grew up throwing.”

        Sullivan has never had an arm problem as a pro. He's 29 years old. The last two years, he led the major leagues in innings pitched. Sullivan worked so much last year, there were times you swore he pitched twice in the same game.

        We bring it up now because the experts are already going on about Cincinnati's poor, overworked bullpen. Rob Dibble, ex-Red and current cable TV face, said if the Reds starters don't offer more innings, the relievers will die of overuse. Or something.

        Dibble ought to know better. Or talk to Scott Sullivan. Maybe Sully could show Dibble how to throw a curveball with a yam.

        (Actually, Dibble's theory would work, if applied to Dibble. Whenever the erstwhile Nasty Boy threw a fastball, you waited for his right arm to follow the ball into Joe Oliver's mitt.)

Not to worry
        The overworked bullpen theory makes us sound like we know what we're talking about. It also gives Reds fans something else to worry about, which ought to make them happy. But it's as wrong as calling Dibble “Mr. Mellow.”

        Let Sullivan explain. It's his rubber arm at the center of it:

        “These guys are getting work because they're good,” he said. Imagine that.

        If you own a Lexus, drive it. Do not worry about chipping the paint in the parking lot.

        The Reds will not burn out their bullpen because they have three pitchers — Sullivan, Danny Graves and Scott Williamson — who can close a game. They have a bullpen full of pitchers who can throw every night. The exception is Williamson, who needs a little more rest because every pitch he throws moves like it's running from the law.

Strength of team
        Hume and Dr. Pitching (Don Gullett) handled the 'pen so well last year, it was the strength of the team. Sullivan threw 113 innings, Graves 111, Williamson 93. Nobody got hurt.

        They're on pace for the same this year. At his present rate, Williamson would go about 140 innings. There is no reason to believe it will be fatal. If you want to worry about something, worry about the number of times they warm up without getting into a game. Sullivan appeared in 79 games in '99; he probably warmed up in 25 more.

        Sullivan said the relievers have “an open policy” with Gullett and Hume. “When we need a day (off), we ask for it,” he said.

        Ever asked for one?

        “Well, uh,” Sullivan said.

        He has had two arm surgeries, one in high school, the other in college, both to clean out bone chips caused by childhood football injuries. “My theory is to throw as hard as I can, as long as I can,” Sullivan said. It seems to be working.

        Until it isn't, can we table the overworked talk? Someone offer Dibble a new topic. Etiquette, maybe.

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