PHOENIX – Geeked on five-hour energy, reassuring himself an achy shoulder was nothing more than an achy shoulder, hungry but unconvinced what went in would stay in, Jake Peavy(notes) on Saturday afternoon resolutely dragged himself to the mound.
Upon which, in the words of the sage talent scout behind the plate, "The same old Peavy, then he wanted to win."
Rallying back from the torn lat, from months of idleness, and through the lingering clouds of a stomach virus, Peavy took the wholly unnecessary risk of 83 pitches on a warm afternoon, possibly three weeks – and possibly an entire month – from when the Chicago White Sox might need him.
At a time when he probably should have been sipping flat ginger ale and choking down dry toast, when a wrung-out body could hardly be trusted to deliver sound mechanics or reactions, Peavy insisted.
This is his program, his stinkin' comeback, his mule-headedness and as he said, "I certainly wouldn't let a couple little days of throwing up keep me off the mound."
That's the glory of Peavy, of course, who'd pitch through every body part for a win and a team he loves and a season that suddenly looks like could happen for him.
It's not that he's reckless; he told the White Sox about his shoulder not feeling quite right, softening the admission with the greater observation that his whole body didn't feel quite right. But to back off now – to delay his outing another day or two or, heaven forbid, into a simulated or minor-league game – wasn't in his plan, and Jake Peavy's plan almost always wins.
As a result, and barring anything catastrophic, Peavy has pitched his way into the White Sox's early rotation, whether that be April 6 in Kansas City (if manager Ozzie Guillen and pitching coach Don Cooper ignore an early off day), April 10 vs. Tampa Bay (the first time they'd need a fifth starter) or April 20 in Tampa Bay (the next time they'd need a fifth starter). Guess what Peavy is shooting for?
"Kansas City," he said.
Without specifying anything like a schedule, Guillen said, "Well, the way I see him performing, yes. I don't see why not. … If everything goes the way it is so far, he'll be on this ballclub."
Perhaps only Peavy might have thought so a month or so ago, when most estimates had him returning to the mound closer to July, when doctors figured that lat would be fully attached to the rest of him, and sturdy enough so he could muscle up and throw fastballs past big-league hitters.
They're all pitching through something, especially this time of year, but few with the same earnestness as Peavy. The man has a plan, which doesn't involve being a broken-down memory at 29 while the rest of the game goes on without him. So he talked Guillen and the medical staff into this start, only a few dozen hours after being "as sick as I have ever been in my life," and despite needing actual effort to roll on his socks and lace up his spike.
He walked to the mound as though in a flannel robe and slippers, began his half-hearted throws to A.J. Pierzynski(notes), signaled for his catcher to throw through after seven of them, and then lobbed an 83-mph fastball to Oakland Athletics leadoff hitter Ryan Sweeney(notes). The next fastball was lined over Peavy's head, and the whole exercise was looking unnecessary and possibly dangerous.
But Peavy stayed on course. He exerted himself on occasion. He stayed around the plate with four pitches. Sweeney later got him for a two-run, opposite-field home run on a pitch Peavy won't throw in three weeks.
Against a lineup dotted with regular major leaguers, Peavy saw the big hitters coming, and humped up against them. He paced himself to and from the mound, and by the middle of his 5 ⅔-innings was reasonably sharp. He cursed himself when he couldn't locate the outer half of the plate with his fastball against lefties and cursed fate when a few broken bats pushed across an A's run in the fourth inning.
From two rows back, scouts noted he'd pitched most of the day near the upper 80s, and threw perhaps his best two pitches to his last two batters of the sixth. He struck out Hideki Matsui(notes) on a straight changeup and on his eighth pitch to Connor Jackson nicked the outside corner with a perfect fastball, at 89 mph the hardest he'd thrown all day.
Afterward, packed in ice and wearing a towel over his shoulders, Peavy peered through heavy eyelids, satisfied that he'd inched ahead another 83 pitches, and another day.
"It's about what I expected," he said. "I've had better days, but I got through it."
He mentioned the ache in his shoulder, which didn't seem to bother anyone, including him. He knew he'd get stronger, throw harder, last longer. But not today. Today, he was done, and glad for it.
"I'm going to go home and try to eat something," he said. "Nothing seems to go down easy."
- Jake Peavy