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For rookie pitchers, alternative to rest is smashing into the wall

Toronto Blue Jays' Marcus Stroman delivers a pitch against the Houston Astros in the first inning of a baseball game Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, in Houston.

Pat Sullivan/The Associated Press

Kids get cranky, so do bosses, and it appears arms can as well.

As the Toronto Blue Jays benefited from a day off on Monday ahead of this week's two-game series with the National League Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers – which is to be followed by, wonder of wonders, another off-day – not everyone was relishing the prospect of rest.

"It's crazy, but sometimes your arm doesn't appreciate the off-day. Because we're so used to throwing and throwing, it gets cranky a little bit," Jays relief pitcher Casey Janssen said. "A cranky arm is never fun, but sometimes it's better than a tired arm."

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Janssen, who has dealt with arm injuries in the past, said it can sometimes take him a day or two to recover from the muscle and ligament tightness that can result from inactivity.

"Some of my worst days are the day after an off-day, from not doing the throwing motion. For one reason or another, I can't put my finger on why, but that first day of catch is not always my favourite," he said.

Janssen has the perspective of a veteran with long experience in managing his rest and recovery – the value of which is widely underestimated in pro sports, acording to physiologists.

But this is a staff on which younger pitchers have taken key roles. There is disagreement among stats-oriented people on whether the "rookie wall" is a verifiable, quantifiable thing, as tends to happen with most generalizations in sports, but Jays manager John Gibbons says that, in his experience, it exists.

"The long season catches up with everybody," he said.

There was anecdotal evidence on display this past weekend to support Gibbons's position. Standout Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, a first-year player in North America, admitted to USA Today that he's feeling the grind of the major-league season. "You get to a point where you want the season to end," he said. "It's too much."

After clouting a major league-leading 31 home runs through July 29, Abreu hasn't cleared the fence in three weeks. He did drive in three runs last Friday against Toronto, but he was was ineffective on Saturday and Sunday.

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So observers wonder whether rookie Jays hurler Marcus Stroman, who was chased after just two-thirds of an inning on Friday, and his young colleague Drew Hutchison, who gave up six runs in the first inning on Sunday and was a pitch or two away from getting lifted, are under similar strain.

Stroman and Hutchison, both 23 years old, insist they feel perfectly fine physically. Their manager, however, sees signs of wear.

"In Hutch's case, he's still a youngster and coming off Tommy John [ligament-replacement surgery], and the big-league season's long – that extra month affects everybody differently," Gibbons said. "With his style of pitching, he's got a little bit of power to him, he's going to get bigger and stronger as he matures. But [the wall] is definitely a real thing."

With two young pitchers on his starting staff and another in his bullpen (top prospect Aaron Sanchez, 22, pitched in back-to-back games this weekend for the first time at the major-league level), Gibbons is mindful of the importance of rest.

Managing fatigue is especially important when it comes to his relievers, who were heavily solicited on the weekend and whose work can take on a disproportionate importance in the playoff chase.

"When you go out there and you're pitching at full strength, you're more successful than when you're pitching tired," said Janssen, the closer and anchor of the bullpen.

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The impact of fatigue varies from player to player and arm to arm, and in any case none of the forgoing can be used as a crutch.

"I've lived it, I've done it, I've had some seasons where you're thriving through August and September, and there's other times when you might start hitting a wall," Janssen said. "It sounds like silly stuff, but your rest, what you eat, what you do in the weight room, it all matters … at this point, we're trying to power through."

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