Brewers discuss innings limit for young pitchers

Brewers discuss innings limit for young pitchers

HOUSTON -- Mike Fiers is not the only Brewers pitcher who could see his season cut short as the ballclub considers ways to protect its valuable mound assets.

Manager Ron Roenicke said club officials have discussed -- but not yet made any firm decisions -- about limiting the late-season workloads of some young pitchers, including Fiers, the 27-year-old who didn't make it to the Majors until the waning days of May, but has worked his way into the National League Rookie of the Year discussion.

"A lot of this stems from what, publicly, is happening with [Nationals right-hander Stephen] Strasburg," Roenicke said. "[The Brewers] have done that for a while here, but I think when it becomes public like it has with him, then everybody wants to hear what's going on and what you're planning to do."

The Brewers' general plan calls for capping pitching prospects at about 30 percent of their workload in the previous season. But there is a lot of gray area; Yovani Gallardo, for example, jumped from 46 2/3 innings in a 2008 season interrupted by knee surgery to 185 2/3 innings in 2009, with no ill effects. Only very late in the '09 season did the Brewers shut Gallardo down.

Roenicke indicated the plan for the current crop of pitchers was not yet set, and that officials were considering an array of options for a variety of pitchers. Do you begin shortening his outings, or does that tax the bullpen and teach starters bad habits? Do you simply shut a pitcher down, or does that make for a discouraging end to an otherwise positive season? Do you "piggyback" two pitchers in the same game?

Fiers is 6-4 with a 1.80 ERA in 12 starts and one relief appearance. Including his time at Triple-A Nashville, Fiers has thrown 135 innings during the 2012 regular season, already a career high. He pitched 126 Minor League innings in 2011, and 125 innings in 2010.

Also under watch is right-hander Mark Rogers, who was limited to 44 1/3 innings last season because of injuries and a suspension and had worked 106 innings entering his start against the Astros on Friday. Rogers, a former first-round Draft pick whose progress has been slowed by various injuries, pitched a career-high 116 regular-season innings in 2010.

And fellow righty Marco Estrada, who bounced between the starting rotation and relief while pitching 92 2/3 innings last season, is already at 88 2/3 innings in 2012. Estrada has more of a track record; he pitched a career-high 143 2/3 innings in the Nationals' system in 2009.

"Some of the guys are to a point where we do need to talk about it, and try to figure out what's best for that individual," Roenicke said.

The Brewers won't be short of starting pitchers. Right-hander Shaun Marcum is nearing a return from the disabled list, and the team may want another look at Triple-A Nashville's Tyler Thornburg and Wily Peralta before the end of the year.