#54 Jose Rosado
Back in the late 90s, there wasn't a whole lot of deference to pitch counts, at least not by crusty, old-school baseball men. Men like Bob Boone and Tony Muser. Boone and Muser each managed the Royals in those days. They both spent the prime of their playing careers in the 1970s, a gritty era in which pitchers dominated, and defense and fielding won you ballgames. Those were days in which pitchers went nine innings every time out, and anything less meant you were a pansy. The strike zone back in those days was about as large as Calvin Pickering, and pitchers didn't need to go max effort on every pitch to every hitter because the bottom three hitters in each lineup featured gritty light-hitting infielders who couldn't hit a home run if you gave them an aluminum bat and moved the fences to just beyond the infield.
Having played in that environment, Boone and Muser adopted many of the same principles from that era in their managerial styles. Only now it was 1997, the strike zone was the size of a pea, shortstops were the size of Lou Ferrigno, and pitchers had become so specialized, Tony LaRussa had a left-handed reliever who only pitched on odd number days against hitters whose last name began with a consonant. The unwitting victim of their shortsightedness would be a young left-hander by the name of Jose Rosado.
Jose was a Puerto Rican born in Jersey City, New Jersey. He attended Galveston College, and in 1994, he was drafted in the 12th round by the Royals, three picks ahead of future Royal John Bale. He dominated Rookie ball that year, posting a 1.25 ERA and a 56-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He posted a 3.13 ERA in a full season in Wilmington the next season. He made two good starts in AA Wichita before being promoted to AAA Omaha, where he posted a 3.15 ERA in fifteen starts.
In June of that year the Royals called him up to make a spot start for the injured Kevin Appier. He gave up two runs in six innings against the Angels in a no-decision. In July, with Rosado at age 21, the Royals promoted him for good. He really impressed in his fourth start when he shutout the Yankees in New York over 7 2/3 innings in front of a crowd of friends and family. In his next outing, he went the distance in a complete game three hit shutout against the Red Sox. It seemed pretty clear the Royals had a special pitcher on their hands.
"He's probably got as much poise as anybody we've got. He doesn't stand out there like a 21-year-old."
-Royals Manager Bob Boone
On August 19, Rosado went the distance in a 2-1 loss to Toronto. The next time out, Boone had Rosado go 125 pitches in an attempt to get Rosado a complete game, a feat he fell one out short of in a 9-2 blowout of Detroit. Rosado would exceed 100 pitches in his next four outings, hitting 116 pitches on September 10. He ended the year 8-6 with a 3.21 ERA in sixteen starts.
Lowest ERA+ by a Royals Pitcher Under Age 23 (min. 100 innings pitched)
Mark Littell - 170 (1976; 2.08 ERA at age 23)
Jose Rosado - 156 (1996; 3.21 ERA at age 21)
Bret Saberhagen - 145 (1985; 2.87 ERA at age 21)
Bret Saberhagen - 136 (1987; 3.36 ERA at age 23)
Doug Bird - 136 (1973; 2.99 ERA at age 23)
Rosado entered 1997 with a firm spot in the rotation, and he justified the Royals faith by getting off to a hot start. He allowed just one earned run in his first decision. In his next start he lasted into the ninth, giving up just two runs, but he failed to earn a victory in either decision. On May 11, he lowered his ERA to 2.38 by lasting 120 pitches in Yankee Stadium, but once again failed to earn a victory. He did win four straight games in June, tossing two complete games, and hitting 119 pitches in three straight games. Although he had just a 7-4 record, he was named to the All-Star team as the Royals lone representative.
At the All-Star break, the Royals decided they had enough of Boonieball and hired Tony Muser to be their new manager. Muser actually did a fine job handling Rosado down the stretch. In Jose's remaining fifteen starts, Muser only had him exceed 110 pitches once. Some of that, however, probably had more to do with the fact that Rosado finished the season 2-8 with a 6.75 ERA in those fifteen starts. A "tired arm" was cited as a reason for his second half decline.
Because of Jose's second-half swoon, Muser demoted him to the pen to start out 1998.
"I just saw some complacency, the attitude that he had the ballclub made. I just didn't see an aggressive guy."
After thirteen relief appearances, Rosado rejoined the rotation in May and by his fourth start he looked like the Rosado of old, pitching a complete game five hit shutout in Anaheim. Muser did not take much stock in Rosado's arm problems in the second of half of 1997, because he began to ride Rosado hard from that point. After his complete game shutout, Rosado had twenty-one more starts. In twelve of those starts, he exceeded 100 pitches, in eight he exceeded 110 pitches. He topped 123 pitches in a complete game 2-1 loss to Cleveland. Rosado finished the year 8-11 with a 4.69 ERA in 174 2/3 innings.
Going into 1999, Rosado was firmly a member of the rotation and with trade rumors swirling around ace Kevin Appier, Rosado was primed to be the Royals ace of the future. He acted like an ace initially, posting a 1.93 ERA in his first eight starts, although a lack of support left his record at just 2-2. Muser than had Rosado go at least 110 pitches in nine of his next thirteen starts, including a 132 pitch performance against Seattle that is now considered criminally negligent in thirteen states. A month later, he would repeat the performance against the Yankees. Rosado ended the year with a 10-14 record and a 3.85 ERA, leading the team in both wins and ERA, and earning his second All-Star appearance.
Highest Pitch Counts of Jose Rosado's Career
125 - August 24, 1996 vs. Detroit Tigers
The Royals pounded starter Omar Olivares for five runs in the third, and led 6-2 after six innings. After allowing a home run to Kimera Bartee to begin the game, Rosado cruised through the next six innings. He threw just ten pitches in a 1-2-3 seventh, and was at 92 pitches for the game. A conservative manager might have pulled his 21 year old starter, allowed him to reflect on a great outing, and allowed his pen to protect a four run lead with six outs to go. Bob Boone left Rosado out for the eighth, where he labored a bit for twenty pitches, stranding two baserunners. Even though Rosado was now at 112 pitches, even though the Royals had now extended their lead to 9-2, even though the Royals and Tigers were a combined forty games under .500, Boone sent Rosado out for the ninth to get the complete game. Rosado got the first two outs easily enough, but then hit Phil Nevin and walked Brad Ausmus. Boone decided that 125 pitches was enough, and had Jaime Bluma get the last out of the ballgame.
125 - July 8, 1999 vs. Chicago White Sox
In the bottom of the sixth, Rosado gave up a long home run to Frank Thomas to tie the game, and left the inning having thrown 91 pitches. In the seventh, he escaped a jam, but was up to 107 pitches. Undaunted, Muser left him in for the eighth in a tie game. Rosado gave up a home run to Carlos Lee to give the Sox the lead. The Royals reclaimed the lead in the ninth, allowing Muser to turn the game over to his bullpen. Relievers Tim Byrdak and Don Wengert gave Muser good reason for keeping Rosado out there so long, quickly blowing the 5-4 lead and the game.
128 - September 24, 1999 vs. Detroit Tigers
Rosado had thrown an amazing 70 pitches in less than three innings in his previous outing - a shellacking in Oakland. He fared much better in Detroit, lasting eight innings, and giving up just one earned run for the win. Rosado had 93 pitches through six innings, then got in a jam in the seventh, giving up a run. The Royals scored another run in the top of the eighth to extend the lead to 5-2, but Muser had Rosado pitch in the bottom half of the frame, where he had a 1-2-3 inning.
132 - July 28, 1999 vs. Seattle Mariners
Rosado struck out seven and walked five in seven innings in the 5-3 victory over Seattle. He threw 91 pitches through five innings, and labored with a 26 pitch inning in the sixth in which he worked his way out of a jam. Nonetheless, Muser had Rosado come back out for the seventh to face A-Rod and Griffey. Rosado worked an easy 1-2-3 inning, finally departing with 132 pitches under his belt.
132 - September 7, 1999 vs. New York Yankees
Tony Muser must have thought that the impending millennium signaled the apocalypse, because he drove Rosado into the ground in 1999 like there would be no tomorrow. The Royals were 30 games under .500, and Rosado had logged 174 innings at that point, but Tony Muser was still willing to throw Rosado out there for an amazing 132 pitches. The Royals had a 6-1 lead going into the seventh, but Muser left Rosado in to face the top of the order. He finally lifted Jose in the 8th, and used five different pitchers to get the last six outs to preserve the victory.
Rosado won his first start of the 2000 season, a nice six inning outing against the Jays. Three starts later, he was rocked in Minnesota, with his fastball topping out at 81 miles per hour. Muser skipped Rosado's next start, and when Rosado returned, his fastball was back up to 90. In his next start he mowed down the Mariners in a 6-3 win. Little did anyone know, that would be his last Major League start. A few days later in his workout session, Rosado complained of a "dead arm." An MRI revealed tendinitis in his shoulder. After extended rest didn't cure him, he decided to undergo surgery.
Unfortunately, Tony Muser shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a pitching staff. If I had a son who pitched in Little League, I wouldn't let him play for a team managed by Tony Muser. If Tony Muser and I co-managed a Rotisserie team, I would send him out for cold beverages when it came time to bid on pitchers. If I were a pitcher, and Tony Muser and I were stranded on a desert island ... well, you get the idea.
The following spring, Rosado had bicep pain. By May, he was diagnosed with a superior labral tear that required surgery. That winter, he worked out for the Royals, and impressed them enough that they offered him a $3.25 million, non-guaranteed contract. He came into the spring training of 2002 in high hopes.
"For the first time in two years there is no pain."
Rosado got to camp, took the mound, and began throwing 77 mile per hour fastballs. After two outings in spring training, the Royals released him, saving themselves nearly $3 million. They re-signed him to a minor league contract, but he could never regain strength in his arm. The Royals let him go at the end of the year, and he bounced from the Reds to the Mets, never even getting in a minor league game due to his injuries.
Rosado joins Steve Busby in the list of great "what-if" careers. They serve as cautionary tales for future managers that complain as to why today's young whippersnappers can't last more than 100 pitches. Heed the story of Jose Rosado.