Hitters beware! It’s the Year of the Pitcher II

Yovani Gallardo kept putting up zeros, setting off no-hitter alerts all over. So when he glanced at the Busch Stadium scoreboard, the Milwaukee pitcher clearly saw what was happening.

In Toronto, that is. Because that’s where Justin Verlander was doing even better, working on a perfect game.

“Obviously, you see during the game different scores around MLB and, for some reason, the pitchers always notice that,” Gallardo said.

Minutes after Gallardo gave up his first hit against St. Louis, Verlander walked a Toronto batter. That’s all the Detroit ace yielded, though, while throwing the majors’ second no-hitter of the week.

By the time Verlander and his 100 mph heat finished what Francisco Liriano and his spinners started four days earlier, the stamp on this season was unmistakable.

This is the Year of the Pitcher II. King Felix and his fellow kings of the hill are ruling, with a vengeance.

“The days of slow-pitch softball are over,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

Homers, runs and hits, all down more than 7 percent from last May, reports STATS LLC. And remember: The overall 2010 totals were their lowest since the early 1990s.

“Last year they said it was the year of the pitcher because of all the no-hitters, and this year they’re doing the same thing,” Florida first baseman Gaby Sanchez noted.

All-Stars Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum, Josh Johnson and Trevor Cahill are in control, joined by emerging talents Jaime Garcia, Max Scherzer and Justin Masterson. Together, they’ve put Albert Pujols, Magglio Ordonez, Adam Dunn and top sluggers in prolonged slumps.

Hitters, any suggestions?

“Maybe they should move the mound back,” Florida catcher John Buck quipped.

“It’s just baseball evolving, maybe going back to more traditional baseball. It always seems to balance itself out, whatever era it goes through – steroids or whatever. Baseball seems to balance itself out. So I think it’s the natural course of things,” he said.

A season after Roy Halladay pitched two of the year’s six no-hitters, it seems as if every other day brings a close call.

Already there have been 13 instances of a no-hit bid going into the seventh inning, STATS LLC said. In 2006, when the season started at almost the same time, it had occurred only three times by now.

Tim Hudson and Dan Haren also chipped in with one-hitters, and Cliff Lee struck out 16 – but lost because Atlanta’s Derek Lowe took a no-hitter into the seventh.

“It’s not like all the teams conspire and decide they’re not going to hit,” Colorado closer Huston Street said. “Everything has its trends. I think that we live in this information age where it’s so easy to compare everything and put some sort of ratio or say, ‘This is the week of the no-hitter.’ Before all this, people just sloughed it off.”

Theories abound on the reasons for the growing shift, on and off the field. They include:

– The rise of the cut fastball, boring in on hitters and breaking their bats.

– A premium on picking lots of nearly-ready-for-the-show hard throwers in the draft.

– An emphasis on putting more athletic defensive players on the field.

– Advances in video scouting, plus better training and treatment techniques.

Some point directly at the drug programs designed to root out steroids and amphetamines. Others aren’t so sure that’s the main reason.

“They test pitchers, too,” Oakland manager Bob Geren said, “so you can’t necessarily make that argument.”

A week after the White Sox were zipped by Liriano, Chicago first baseman Paul Konerko offered a simpler explanation for the rash of no-hitters and near no-nos.

“I think a lot of it is coincidence,” he said.

Makes sense to Kevin Correia. He struggled last season with San Diego, but is off to a terrific start for Pittsburgh – he took a no-hit bid into the sixth inning against Milwaukee before losing.

“You know, last year was the year of the pitcher but I had a bad year, or not as good of a year,” he said.

“With the weather being pretty bad at the beginning of the year, I think it’s easier to pitch in bad weather than it is to hit. I’m sure it will turn around at some point,” he said.

That’s his forecast, anyway. Rain and snow have made an impact – there have been 19 postponements, only two short of last year’s total.

In the meantime, Andre Ethier isn’t worrying. He’s doing fine, coming off his 30-game hitting streak for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I don’t get into that whole analysis of, I guess, the overall look of baseball,” he said. “I’m not one who is going to sit there and number crunch and look at the statistics and say whether they’re up or down.”

To Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, the whole equation is easy to understand.

“Pitching stops hitting. Period. Good pitching stops good hitting,” he said. “So I think it’s the same old thing, really. Good pitching stops good hitting.”

Be it at the beginning of the game or the end.

“It seems like every guy you face out of the bullpen is throwing 95. All of the starters tend to have more dominating stuff instead of just pitchability,” Padres third baseman Chase Headley said.

More complete pitchers, more complete games: 35 so far, STATS LLC said, up from 29 on this date last year (the season opened about a week earlier) and just 20 in 2006.

Verlander pointed to Jered Weaver, Lincecum, Hernandez and other aces.

“You’ve got one of the best groups of pitchers to come out in a couple of years,” he said. “There’s been a lot of not just quality big league pitchers, but a lot of star big league pitchers come out of that class from four or five years ago.”

White Sox announcer Steve Stone, the 1980 AL Cy Young winner after going 25-7 for Baltimore, looked back to a year when pitchers really ruled.

“In 1968, (Bob) Gibson had a 1.12 ERA, (Luis) Tiant had a 1.60 in the American League, Denny McLain won 31 games, and they lowered the mound to 10 inches because the pitchers were dominating so much. And since then, every decision that’s been made in the game has been hitter friendly. The parks are smaller, the strike zone is smaller, and hitters get to armor-up,” Stone said.

Texas Rangers broadcaster Steve Busby threw a pair of no-hitters for Kansas City in the 1970s. He picked up on Stone’s thoughts.

“Pitching has come to the forefront in the last four or five years and it’s going to stay that way for a while, if history is any indicator,” he said. “It’s just one of those deals where pitching, finally, after 20 years made some halfway decent adjustments.”

These days, Busby finds himself like every other fan, following the instant no-hitter alerts that buzz across baseball. My, how times have changed.

“When I was throwing,” he said, “you used to have to send out carrier pigeons so people around the other ballparks would know.”


AP Sports Writers Will Graves, Steven Wine, Colin Fly, Pat Graham, Stephen Hawkins and AP freelance writers Ian Harrison, Ken Sins and Joe DiGiovanni contributed to this report.