And I'm writing this as the enemy. I've researched studies that "proved" pitch count lead to injuries, wrote about it in three parts, and concluded that pitch counts are BS.
But I'm surprised there is even any debate about whether Gardenhire should have pulled Kevin Slowey after seven inning of no-hit baseball. I assume that most of the venom is coming from people who dislike Gardenhire as a manager, and looking for some fuel for the fire. This isn't it. And again, this is coming from someone who thinks pitch counts are terribly overused. Here was my summary of that research:
The 100 pitch count “limit” was ingrained in people’s noggins before this study. The original PAP metric had sabremetrics lovers everywhere analyzing and criticizing managers for fragging their players' arms, present company included. The revised metric supposedly brought it even more credence.
It didn’t. The study of pitch counts appears to – as Bill James wrote a couple of years later – resulted in a dead end. The evidence shows that pitchers arms are no more affected in the short or long term by 125 pitches than they are by 100, and barely affected up to 139 pitches. And pitch counts like that almost never happen in major league baseball these days.
If Kevin Slowey wasn't battling tendinitis, or didn't skip a start, I'd fully support the flack that Gardenhire is getting. But if that wasn't true, I'm just as sure that Gardenhire would not have pulled him. In fact, I think it's funny that of all managers, Gardenhire is the one getting criticized for not giving his player a chance to get an individual accomplishment.
If anything, Gardenhire jumps through hoops to get his players those laurels. He juggles his bullpen to get his closer saves. He'll nurse starting pitchers in close games to the end of an inning, in the hope of getting his guy a win. He pays close attention to milestones his hitters are reaching, and he's extremely cautious about moving players around in the field or the lineup, for fear of embarrassing them.
There is NO WAY he wanted to pull Slowey. He admitted as much after the game. Even said he would "Boo" himself for it. Anyone who watches him manage must know this. It goes against his every instinct.
But you don't F with a pitcher with a sore elbow. Slowey threw a season high 114 pitches last week - and ended up missing a start. Extending Slowey to pitch past that number is a reasonable goal that both he, Gardenhire and Rick Anderson should embrace. But not coming off an injury. That's just nuts - and whether a no-hitter was in play or not is relatively irrelevant.
Gardenhire and coach Rick Anderson showed they are willing to take the heat - from fans, announcers and probably their own team - to watch out for the longer term interested of a team and for a young arm's career. By doing so, they showed foresight, caring, courage and leadership. And that should be celebrated, not criticized.