Don Mattingly makes right call in pulling Adam Conley with no-hitter intact

Don Mattingly walked out to the mound with a painful look on his face. He didn't want to do it but he almost had to: Adam Conley, his second-year left-hander for the Miami Marlins, was four outs away from a no-hitter but was sitting at 116 pitches. In this day of deep bullpens and ultra-conservative pitch counts, 120-pitch games are a rarity. We had only 40 such starts last year -- less than 1 percent of all starts, and only one of those came in April. Mattingly shook his head, sort of a "I don't have a choice here." Conley gave him the ball. The fans booed -- Brewers fans, whose team was getting no-hit.

Was it the right call? I think so. It's early in the season. Conley had walked a batter in both the seventh and eighth innings and while his stuff and velocity still looked good, Mattingly and pitching coach Juan Nieves had to factor the walks into the decision and consider maybe Conley was starting to tire. His previous career-high pitch count was 106. With four outs to go the likelihood was he needed at least 130 pitches to finish it off. Only two starters threw 130 in a game last season: Mike Fiers with 134 in his no-hitter, and Clayton Kershaw with 132 in a September complete game against the Giants.

Those are references to no-hitters thrown by Johan Santana, Tim Lincecum and Bud Smith, when all three threw 130-plus pitches and had injury problems soon thereafter.

The arguments for leaving Conley in are less convincing. Conley may never come this close again to a no-hitter. Also, while he was making just his 16th major league start, he's not a young kid in need of excessive protection; he turns 26 in May. In the end, Mattingly took the safe approach. For those who want to blame Donnie Baseball for ruining a potentially great moment, I'd point to Conley's four walks. And while he certainly had very good stuff on this night, the Brewers did foul off 18 pitches, helping to run up that pitch count.

I watched the last couple innings of his outing and he did a nice job pounding the outside corner with his fastball while spotting the changeup low and away against the Brewers' right-handed hitters:

He threw 78 fastballs, average velocity of 91.7 mph, although it's one of those fastballs that seems to have a little giddy-up at the end of it. He was still throwing 91 to 93 mph in the eighth, but Mattingly may also have been thinking of an April 19 start against the Nationals, a game tied 0-0 in the seventh when Conley suddenly hit the wall, giving up back-to-back home runs and then two more hits.

The Marlins, by the way, have now six in a row to climb back to .500. Mattingly was certainly feeling good about sweeping the Dodgers four games in L.A. and now the team has a little momentum, even with the 80-game suspension of All-Star second baseman Dee Gordon starting with this game. The Marlins were that one National League team nobody knew what to expect of: Good, bad or ugly? If they're going to be good, Conley will be a big key, developing into a solid No. 3 starter behind Jose Fernandez and Wei-Yen Chen. That's why Mattingly had to play the long game here and not an individual moment get in the way of the bigger picture.