PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 23: Starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo #61 of the Cincinnati Reds walks off the field after being pulled from the game in the third inning during the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on May 23, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Lance McAllister reported that Bronson Arroyo was seen boarding a flight from Philadelphia to Cincinnati this morning. A Dr. Kremcheck-up is likely: Dusty Baker tells John Fay that Bronson is being "checked out."
I know I'm indulging in tabloid-style, third-hand reporting here. And I don't want to drive-by this newsbyte and start claiming that Bronson is injured and I know what might be wrong with him. But I did want to raise the possibility that he's not as unflappable as he has been in the past. As Scrabbles noted in the Reposter, last night seemed like a classic, semi-annual Badrroyo melt-down. Coming into last night's start Bronson had gone at least seven innings in four of his nine starts and thrown at least 100 pitches in five. He was also averaging 6 and 1/3 innings per start, on pace for nearly 209 IP if he makes 33 starts (which is the low-end of the 33-35 start range he's traced out since coming to Cincinnati). Arroyo's record as a workhorse is well-established. Every season since 2005, Arroyo has pitched at least 200 innings. Starting at least 33 games per year allows a pitcher to miss a start or be skipped roughly once per season.
Almost as reliable as his innings ingestion has been his periodic and abject meltdowns, which became a thing sometime circa 2007. In late May of that year, he staggered through 5 innings, giving up 8 ER on 11 hits in Houston. The following year, he had a similar shelling in a 3.2 IP outing in April, though the signature meltdown came in Toronto in June, during a 1 inning, 10 ER, 11 H, 3 HR disintegration that raised his ERA almost an entire run (there would be a derivative re-make shot on the cheap in Canada the next season). He was tagged for 9 ER, making only 3 outs before leaving a start in early May 2009 and suffered an 8 ER start in April last season.
The Arroyogurt turns sour once in a while. The big time meltdowns are regular, but infrequent. They also happen almost exclusively during the first half of the season. Bronson is a famous for late life on his season, with markedly better performance during July-October. Early struggles shouldn't be a surprise.
Despite the fact that last night fits pretty well into Arroyo's narrative, there are a few red flags that give me a little pause about his durability. Obviously, he's not as young as he once was, having turned 34 in February. This wouldn't seem to be a major concern of a low-impact pitcher who threw 200 innings last -season and recently underwent a full physical before finalizing a hefty extension. And, really, it probably isn't.
But Arroyo's putting on miles, however gradually. It's not clear yet if he's got the Jamie Moyer constitution. He opted against carpal tunnel surgery - and the symptoms were reported to have subsided - but it's not unreasonable to consider some recurrence with his decision not to go under the knife. Just this spring, Bronson had a bout of mononucleosis, a strength-sapping virus in which symptoms may go away, fooling the host into thinking they're completely over it. Bronson may have had an unreported relapse or still be suffering some after-effects. His fastball velocity, which has been sitting around 86 MPH, has yet to touch 90 (though his average has moved northward in his last few starts).
There's nothing about Arroyo's performance to date that's historically surprising. His typical early-season struggles and some residual depletion from battling mono would entirely explain last night. I'd bet it's a case of Bronson Being Bronson. And will continue to be - until it isn't.