The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (we have to do something about that) thumped the Houston Astros 9-1 on Monday afternoon. Mike Trout didn’t have a sensational game, and there was no singular standout performance on either side. Three things made the game mildly interesting, though:

  1. Josh Hamilton drew three walks in one game, which you’re free to chalk up to facing erratic Astros pitching, or to the end of the world, or to Hamilton making meaningful changes to his approach at the plate. They’re probably roughly equal in their likelihood.
  2. The Astros missed a chance to rise above .500 more than five games into the season for the first time since July 2009. Good Lord.
  3. C.J. Wilson threw eight innings of one-run ball, allowing that lone run in his final frame, long after the game was decided.

The first two things are interesting, but I don’t have any expansive thoughts about them to share right now. Number 3 is the discussion point for me, this morning.

Wilson, you see, threw 120 pitches in the game, including 27 in a very bumpy eighth inning. While I’m not ready to say Mike Scioscia made the wrong decision by leaving Wilson in to pitch the eighth, I’m inclined to believe that he did.

To me, permitting any pitcher to throw potentially high-stress pitches (for instance, crossing the 100-pitch barrier and plowing onward) in low-leverage situations is a mistake. Wilson has been a workhorse, and his lack of particularly fine command has always led to some high pitch counts. He pitches a little like Bob Gibson, and he’s been similarly durable. His last remotely serious injury was in 2008. That’s one reason not to hate the move, and it’s also the one Scioscia, Wilson and almost anyone else you asked would give. Guys like Wilson take pride in pitching deep into games, and Wilson has demonstrated his ability to do so without getting hurt.

Injury risk isn’t the only kind of risk, though. Wilson’s 120-pitch effort might leave his arm slightly deadened the next time out, especially since it comes so early in the season. It certainly precludes bringing Wilson back on regular rest, thereby shortening the rotation (the Angels are off on Thursday), which is the sort of thing contending teams with thin starting staffs should be looking to do any time they can. Wilson had thrown 79 pitches through six frames, and the Angels led 5-0. He was at 93 bullets fired after seven, and the lead had widened to 8-0.

One could argue that Scioscia had no cause to assume that Wilson would scuffle and need 27 pitches to escape the eighth, but that’s a flimsy excuse. First of all, this early in the season, with all the off days built into MLB’s April schedule, you should err on the side of caution with your top arms, and let mop-up men do all the mopping up. Maybe in June, with your fourth or fifth starter, you use the big margin for error to refresh your staff. In this circumstance, though, it felt like the wrong choice. Secondly, managers far too often underrate the potential for a starter who is pitching well to run into a serious snag late in a start. Skippers often give away games by waiting until a guy works into trouble in the seventh or eighth to get the hook. Scioscia wasn’t in a position to change the outcome on Monday, but his process was not as proactive as mine would be.

None of this matters all that much. There’s a fine chance that staying in to finish that frustrating final frame will come back to haunt Wilson not at all. I just thought this conversation was one worth having.

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