Detroit Tigers Manager Jim Leyland Puts Unnecessary Pitch Count on Justin Verlander

by JoeDelGrippo

He was one of the last of a dying breed, and old school manager who made decisions on his gut instinct more often than the computer printouts. He was always smoking in the hallway leading to the clubhouse and swearing like a sailor would on a three-day weekend pass.

Jim Leyland was a bench coach with Tony LaRussa in Chicago back in the 1980’s before embarking on his own managerial career. After a couple playoff near misses in Pittsburgh, he then won the World Series in 1997 with the Florida Marlins. Leyland got there again in 2006 with the Detroit Tigers (his current team) where he lost the Series to his mentor, LaRussa and the St. Louis Cardinals.

But Leyland is finally gone the route of the namby-pamby skippers.

He has instituted a pitch count for his ace, Justin Verlander. A work-horse type pitcher with a big 6′5″, 225 lb frame, Verlander has taken the ball for 140 starts in the major leagues. He has never missed a start due to an injury, but during his 2006 rookie season the Tigers skipped Verlander two times, once during the All Star break and once in September.

The Tigers had a big lead late that season, and they theorized that since Verlander would pitch in the playoffs, they could limit his innings. OK, sounds good. Limit the workload of your best pitcher, keeping him fresh for the playoffs.

Didn’t quite work out as planned because in four starts during the 2006 post season, Verlander was 1-2 with a 5.82 ERA.

But even after that “heavy workload” season, Verlander has never missed a start for injury, making 32 starts in 2007, 33 in 2008 and a stunning 35 starts last season. Stunning in 2009 only to the fact that since Verlander never went on three days rest, and while even going on five days rest 11 times, he still managed to start 35 games.

He threw 240 innings last year, tops in baseball. He also threw the most pitches in at 3,937. And when Verlander got off to a bad start in 2010, there was a USA today piece saying his slow start could have been attributable to his 2009 workload.

Old school Leyland didn’t buy it, saying Verlander “threw more pitches last year because he pitched better, so he was in games longer.” It is also the American League (AL) and all the top AL pitchers should be at the top of the innings and pitch amounts because they are never pulled early for a pinch hitter.

To prove his point to the Detroit writers, Leyland produced a computer printout showing in detail the number of pitches Verlander threw in each of his 35 starts last season, encompassing those 240 innings.

“Justin averaged 112 pitches a game,” Leyland said. “That’s a sneeze. Seven innings at 15 pitches is 105. If 112 pitches is a lot, then I should go home.”

“Justin Verlander is a horse,” Leyland continued. “He was mad at me a lot of times because I took him out last year.

In fact, there has been no velocity change at all for Verlander this season. His last pitch of the day yesterday was a 98 MPH fastball to Brett Gardner.

But after Verlander threw 125 pitches against the Los Angeles Angels on April 22 and 121 pitches (in 5.1 innings) against the Minnesota Twins (a loss with no earned runs), Leyland came out with his new policy on his “horse.”

“I don’t take a chance with anybody,” Leyland said. “I take pride in handling my pitching staff and taking care of them, and I’m not going to change. … Where do you draw the line? He’s a horse, I understand that, but he exerts himself a little bit more than other guys when he gets in certain situations.”

Leyland has twice used the word horse regarding Verlander, but it is plainly obvious that Detroit upper management had a little talk with Leyland about the horse’s steady work.

Since Leyland’s new stance was made public, Verlander has gone 120 pitches in 8.1 innings against the Angels and 118 in 6.0 innings today versus Cleveland. And in yesterday win over the Yankees, Verlander got a visit to the mound during the Gardner at bat, and the image was beautiful.

Verlander looked at the scoreboard to see what his pitch count was and talked Leyland into staying in the game because he had not yet hit his 120 pitch count.

Leyland has not divulged his limit for Verlander, but it is safe to assume it is 120 pitches.

But while Leyland says Verlander exerts more due to his power pitching stature, he also should realize that Verlander has tremendous mechanics which allows him to throw that hard and also throw many more pitches than other pitchers without feeling tired or putting extra strain on his arm.

And the Tigers hurler is not happy about this new policy.

“I don’t know if I can put one word to it, maybe overrated. I think it’s incredibly hard to put a stamp on every pitcher in the world and say, this is when you’re tired, this is when your arm is going to fall off. I think everybody’s different.”

Verlander did admit the policy had something to do with his very large guaranteed contract. He signed a five-year, $80-million extension in the off-season, thereby making his arm the Tigers’ most valuable asset.

“With the amount of dollars in this industry now, you really can’t take a chance,” Verlander said. “Do I wish I could stay out there for 175 pitches? Yeah … but I get a pretty long leash by today’s standards. Which I’m grateful for that, too.”

Leyland said he takes pride in protecting his by when he managed the Pittsburgh Pirates, Doug Drabek regularly went over 120 pitches, and once throwing 150 pitches in a game. In 2006, Leyland babied Jeremy Bonderman and he ended up getting hurt.

But not due to pitching overload, but because Bonderman has crappy pitching mechanics which puts additional strain on his shoulder. Did you know that Bonderman has NEVER thrown 120 or more pitches in a game, yet has had recurring shoulder issues?

How can that be? He has never been pitcher abused with pitch counts, and his biggest increase in the Tom Verducci inspired innings increase garbage has been 45 innings when he went from 189 IP in 2005 to 234 (including post season) in 2006. And that was his fifth professional season.

No, it was Bonderman’s terrible mechanics which caused his arm problems. Look at this image of Bonderman. OUCH! IT hurts my shoulder just looking at this image.

Verlander, however, has very clean mechanics, and nary an injury.

Do you notice the difference in the position of the shoulders for each guy during the same point of the delivery?

Justin threw 120 or more pitches 11 times in 2009. In the 10 games after throwing 120+ pitches, he was 7-3 with a 2.93 ERA, 1.005 WHIP and 85 strikeouts in 70.2 innings. He was 4-2 in prior seasons after throwing 120+ pitches.

Pretty dominant results.

In the pennant race last year Verlander won four of his last five starts, pitching into the 8th inning and throwing 120+ pitches in every start. Leyland and the Tigers needed those games and Verlander delivered like a work horse ace should including in the final game on October 4 against the Chicago White Sox. That win allowed the Tigers to play the next day for the division title.

Why was Verlander allowed to go deeper into those games? Because the Tigers needed them? Well, teams need all the games during a season, don’t they?

In 2009 Verlander was pulled in three games due to pitch counts, the most important was during the 7th inning of a May 14, a 6-5 loss to those same Twins. With one out and with a 5-0 lead and runners on first and second, Verlander was pulled after 122 pitches. The bullpen blew the game during that 7th inning, allowing six runs to be scored after Verlander left the game.

One thing consistent with pulling dominant starting pitchers out of games due to pitch counts is that many games are then lost due to inferior relievers trying to get important outs which the starter should be getting.

Ask Zach Greinke or Tim Lincecum all about that. So far this season, their bullpens have a combined five blown games which would have been wins. In a pennant race in September, those early games which were blown usually come back to haunt those teams. Give me a dominant pitcher for six or seven years, rather than a relatively good one for 12 or more seasons any day of the week, and a scheduled double-header on Sunday afternoons.

I want Sandy Koufax and even the recently departed Robin Roberts on my squad for a dominant group of six or seven seasons before their career declines. I don’t want to lose key games during a specific year, miss the playoffs and possibly not have that great season for the individual or the team.

So Leyland is now protecting his (and Detroit’s) valuable arm, quite the change from last season and four seasons ago when his Tigers (with a rookie Verlander) were taking on the New York Yankees in the ALDS.

When asked about the rookies (Verlander’s) workload prior to that 2006 series, Leyland said, “Who should it be harder for in September — Justin Verlander or Randy Johnson, who’s 40-something years old? If you can’t pitch the innings, then you don’t belong in the big leagues. Now, do I try to take care of them? Yes. Am I conscious about trying to not get somebody hurt? Absolutely. But I can’t live in this shelter that says, ‘Oh, I’m afraid to pitch my guy, because if he throws too many pitches, the general manager or the fans are going to be ticked off.’ ”

Sounds like Jim Leyland now needs that shelter more than ever, because the Tigers GM has dictated to Leyland to keep Verlander on a leash.

But Verlander’s history and clean pitching mechanics allows him to be treated differently than almost all other pitchers in baseball, with maybe the exception of Roy Halladay, another pitcher with clean mechanics, lots of innings and no history of arm issues. Verlander can go longer than 120 pitches, probably at least 135 to 140, especially when he can still throw 98 MPH at the 120 pitch mark.

Similar velocity late in a game is a sign of continued strength in a pitcher during the course of a game.

Maybe if Verlander was allowed to throw more during last season, especially during that May 14 game, Detroit’s last game last year would not have been that October 4th game against the White Sox.

It would have been in the post season after Verlander pitched them to the AL Central title.

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36 Responses to “Detroit Tigers Manager Jim Leyland Puts Unnecessary Pitch Count on Justin Verlander”

  1. brautigan Says:

    It’s not that Bonderman has “terrible mechanics”, he relies exclusively on a slider, which is begging for a trip to the disabled list.

    It is intersting to note that Verlander had a very good record after pitching 120 plus pitches. That is usually not the case. But, when you have a pitcher of Verlander’s value, you do not want to take unwarranted risks.

    Which makes me wonder if this is an edict from the Tiger front office and Leyland is being the good soldier?

  2. Raul Says:

    This pitch count watch is bullshit.
    And anyone who says differently doesn’t know baseball.

  3. brautigan Says:

    I’m not sure Raul. Usually I am skeptical about things like this, but I think back to Mark Fidrych and think there has to be something to this, or even Kevin Appier (who at one point, appeared to be one of the best two or three pitchers in baseball). Anyway, try this and see if this is helpful or a waste of time:

  4. Jerry Says:

    I think pitch counts certainly have merit for younger pitchers, and if Leyland has a tight one on Porcello, that would make a lot of sense. Verlander is the kind of guy you ought to be able to give more rope to, though. I think if you reverse engineer from the pitchers who were still throwing hard in their late 30s (Ryan, Carlton, Randy Johnson, Clemens, Schilling) what you see in common is not limited pitch counts, but rather not pitching a lot before they were 24 or so.

  5. Hossrex Says:

    The problem with citing Fidrych or Valenzuela to defend the pitch count, is that those guys were making a HUGE number of pitches per start. To say “pitcher ‘X’ should be limited to 100 pitches per start, since Fernando developed a dead arm after making so many 130+ pitch starts” isn’t quite apt.

    It’d be like saying no one should be allowed to eat an oreo, since it would be dangerous to eat a whole box.

  6. Raul Says:

    Every major league starting pitcher should be able to throw at least 120 pitches per start. Period.

    120 pitches over 9 innings is 13 pitches per inning. If 13 pitches per inning is too tough on you, quit.

    There will always be pitchers with injuries. It has to do with the nature of pitching, it has little to do with how many pitches you throw.

    You get this bullshit about how you have to watch certain guys more than others and if that was the case, it’s one thing. But it’s not like you have a few guys around the league on pitch counts. EVERY PITCHER is subjected to this 100-pitch ceiling nonsense.

    They even pull Tim Wakefield, a fucking knuckleballer after 100 pitches. Yeah, protect him from the strain of a 70 mph fastball.

    In 15 years we’ll be looking at an 85-pitch count limit. Mark my words.

    Pitchers need to throw MORE to avoid injury, not less, and they need to throw properly.

  7. Chuck Says:

    Mark Fidrych didn’t get hurt because of pitch count, he got hurt because he tore cartilage in his knee and didn’t tell anyone.

  8. Chuck Says:

    If you’re throwing 118 pitches in six innings, you deserve a shower.

    ‘Cause you suck.

  9. Joseph DelGrippo Says:


    Bonderman did have a great slider before his shoulder issues, but the slider normally affects the elbow, mostly leading to Tommy John surgery. When a pitcher such as Bonderman has arm action like shown in the piece via the linked photo, shoulder issues are very common.

    Bonderman does have terrible mechanics.

    Verlander’s value is in his ability to pitch big games as the ace of the Tigers staff. If he is not allwoed to complete or go longer than 120 pitches and the bullpen continues to blow games, where is the value in that? Losses?

    Justin’s really strong mechanics can allow him to throw deeper, especially when his fastball is still at 98 MPH inthe 7th inning of games. If he is throwing that hard, that late, his legs are strong. If the legs are strong then the pitcher can still throw without fear of injury.

    But if the legs get weak, the mechanics will suffer, and then it is a good time to remove the pitcher. Verlander’s legs were very strong yesterday at the time he was removed. It was purely a pitch count removal in yesterday’s game, and the prior two games also.

    As I said in the piece, no way the 120 pitch count for Verlander is Leyland’s decision. That decision came from the GM, or more likely, ownership. After giving Verlander an $80 million extension this past February and seeing he pitched 125 and 121 pitches in back-to-back starts in April, they shut the door on long outings for their “horse.”

    What they might shut the door on is an AL Central title or playoff spot, like they did last season.

    The choice is the Detroit Tigers and they made it incorrectly.

  10. Matt Says:

    What about the warm up throws before each inning and throwing over to first. A pitchers count can already be in the 50’s or 60’s without even throwing to a batter. Pitch counts are stupid Each individual pitcher should know what their body can handle.

  11. Patrick Says:

    I’m not a big pitch count fan. It’s obviously important to keep track of but I agree with the Leyland quotes in the article, especially “that’s just 112 pitches a game. If that’s a lot, I should go home.”.

    I also agree with Chuck, if you’re over 100 pitches after 5 innings, you probably should be pulled because you probably lack command on that particular day, not because you may get hurt.

    Also, every guy is different. Wakefield could throw 200 pitches and he’d be fine. Moyer is another guy who doesn’t horsewhip his arm all day long but if you look at Raphael Soriano throw for instance, he’s going to get hurt if he throws over 30 pitches like that.

    And as Matt points out, what about all of the warm up pitches? Granted, some are at 80% velocity but I always felt that relievers waste too much effort in the pen.

  12. Raul Says:

    These relievers take forever to get ready in the bullpen. They throw their pitches, then stop. They’re ready. Then they come in the game and throw more warm-up pitches on the mound.

    That’s like jerking off, getting up to go to the bathroom, then coming back, jerking off again, and then banging your wife.

  13. Chuck Says:

    Last night against Atlanta, Ian Kennedy is dealing.

    Bottom seven, Dbacks up 4-0.

    First pitch of the seventh, Kennedy’s 100th of the game. Homerun Brian McCann.


    Then Kennedy goes walk, K, single.

    110 pitches, Dbacks still up 4-1.

    AJ Hinch comes out and gets Kennedy, brings in Juan Gutierrez.

    First hitter he faces is the .164 hitting Nate McLouth.

    3-2 fastball right down the cock, McLouth hits it halfway to Marietta.

    Tie game.

    Pitch counts suck.

    This is also an example of my belief inherited runners should be the responsibility of the reliever, and not the starter.

    Kennedy gave up twice as many runs while he was in the shower than he did on the mound.

    I have a (somewhat) fundamental problem with that.

  14. Chuck Says:

    Candidate for one of the greatest quotes of all-time.

    The HOF is having their second annual Classic the weekend of Father’s Day.

    One of the events is a legend’s game.

    A reporter asked NINETY-ONE YEAR OLD Bob Feller how he felt about getting back on the field in uniform.

    “I’m looking forward to throwing again, but I’ll tell you this: I’m not working on a pitch count.”

  15. Raul Says:

    Hahahahaha@ bob feller

  16. Hartvig Says:

    Chuck, great example with Kennedy. If I were in his shoes, Hinch would be getting an earful after the game.

    I think time also is something to be considered. Guys who work quickly like Buehrle or Halladay seem to be able to go deeper than guys who dick around forever, like they’re afraid to throw the damned ball.

  17. Jerry Says:

    “If 13 pitches per inning is too tough on you, quit.”

    Raul I’d love to see the percentage of major league innings in which 13 or fewer pitches are thrown, especially by starters. I have a feeling if you standard was applied there’d only be about a dozen active pitchers. It seems to me the good ones generally average 16-17 pitches per inning.

  18. Hartvig Says:

    Or 40 in the first inning if you’re John Maine…

  19. Raul Says:

    Yankees 3
    Twins 1

    Sergio Mitre.
    Top of the 6th, lead off single. Joe Mauer is up. 79 pitches and taken out of the game. The Yankees will probably go on to win this game but it’s still bullshit.

  20. Raul Says:

    They bring in David Robertson who walks Mauer, strikes out Morneau looking (after going to a full-count), then Cuddyer rockets a ball right at Ramiro Pena at short and they double-up Mauer at 2nd.


  21. Raul Says:

    ….and Joba and Mariano blow it.

  22. Lefty33 Says:

    Jon Rauch comes in and whiffs Jeter, Gardner, and Tex and makes it look easy after allowing two base runners.

  23. Charles Saeger Says:

    1) The average pitch count has been 95 since 1988, when we started counting pitches. The spotty evidence we have shows the same since the 1960s.

    2) PAP isn’t worth anything. It has no predicative value whatsoever, and it shows that there is a performance drop off in the next start at 130 pitches, but starts counting at 100 as if it’s some sort of nasty number.

    3) Starters do start pitching much worse the third time through the order, though they don’t drop further the fourth time. If a pitcher who isn’t a top-flight starter puts a few men on the third time through, you might want to look to the bullpen.

    4) That said, relieving Mitre is odd, since the old rule was always don’t let a starter face the winning run from the seventh inning onward. It was the sixth, Mauer was the tying run and the Yankees were at home. I’m not complaining since I’m from Minneapolis and I hate the Yankees, but Robertson did get the Yankees out of that spot.

  24. kccc15 Says:

    Pitch counts are a joke, at least for Major Leaguers! Heck, I coach high school baseball, and a Varsity pitcher, 16-18 yrs old, can go a max of 120 pitches, on ONLY 3 DAYS REST ! A big leaguer should be able to go 130, 140, maybe 150! how do you account for pitchers in the 50’s 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s, that had 30 complete games in a season? How many CG’s does a pitcher get now-a-days?? 5, at best?? Come on, let them pitch! In 2009, Verlander was pulled 1/2 doz time and his bullpen blew it for him. He could have won 24, maybe more, but Leyland brought in a cold arm vs trusting a hot one. Now, a 20 game winner is just as rare a 30 game winner was 30-40 years ago! They were still playing 162 games, but pitchers went on 4 days rest, not 5 games! LET THEM PITCH !!!

  25. Chuck Says:

    There were five complete games thrown in MLB yesterday, including two by the losing pitcher.

    Wonder when the last time that happened.

  26. Joseph DelGrippo Says:

    The Reds have three complete games now in 2010.

    That Dusty Baker is at it again. He is going to ruin the arms of youngsters like Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto, just like he did to Edinson Volquez, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood. LOL.

    Obviously, I am kidding. I am still waiting for Baker to let Mike Leake go more than 106 pitches or 7 innings, whichever comes first, but that will never happen. Leake is a guy who was a closer at the beginning his freshman year, then became the Friday night starter that same season and threw seven complete games last year as a junior.

    Listen to this video about Leake from Saturday night. They are “monitoring his pitches and innings.”

    In response to Chuck’s question, I wrote this piece last season:

    Basically, it states a pitcher was actually credited with a complete game victory when his teams won the game in its last at bat. Usually, when a game goes to the 9th inning and a team is losing, the starter is usally out of the game by then. It is very rare today for a starting pitcher to remain in the game.

    More of my rants about removin gpitchers to oearly inthat piece. I have been consistent about this topic forever.

    Here is another similar story:

    And another:

    Although there were three shutouts that day, only one was a complete game.

  27. John Says:

    kccci15: A big leaguer should be able to go 130, 140, maybe 150! how do you account for pitchers in the 50’s 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s, that had 30 complete games in a season?”

    A lot of those guys retired at 30.

  28. Raul Says:

    “A lot of those guys retired at 30″.


  29. Hossrex Says:

    I’m no fan of restrictive pitch counts either… but the problem is no one has ever heard of the slightly above average pitcher who hangs up the cleats at 30.

    It’s just the environment of baseball these days. Since players began being so expensive, there was a shift away from “do whatever it takes to win”, in favor of the “do whatever it takes to avoid being the one who gets the blame.”

  30. Raul Says:

    You know who’s to blame for this crap?

    Sandy Koufax and JR Richard.

    Well, the JR Richard situation had nothing to do with his pitching. He was screwed medically.

  31. Joseph DelGrippo Says:

    Koufax never had arm issues resulting from too much work. He had an arthritic condition in his elbow and when he jammed his elbow diving back to first base in a 1964 game, he arm began to deteriorate. He was told not to pitch anymore, but he went along and pitched anyway in 1965 and 1966 with intense pain each season.

    Someday he had his entire arm black and blue, but still went out and pitched.

    He ended up in 1965 with a 26-8, 2.04 ERA season, and 1966, his last, with a 27-9, 1.73 ERA season.

    I recently read in a 1969 baseball preview magazine that Bob Gibson, in his great 1968 season, never fell asleep the night after any one of his starts in the middle of the season to the end because of searing pain in his arm.

    He still pitched and lasted six more seasons, including two more 20+ win seasons.

    Pitchers today should not go through those extremes, but when they feel a twinge or have some soreness they tell someone and are pulled. The pitch count nonsense is another step in the babying of these grown men.

    I would take seven to eight seasons of domination whether it be Koufax, Gibson or Verlander, than 15 seasons of losing key games because of pitch counts.

    In both of Koufax’ final two seasons, the Dodgers went to the World Series. After he left, it took another eight seasons to get back there. Without Sandy going strong in ‘65 and ‘66, the Dodgers do not come close to getting there either season.

    And with the pain Koufax might be experienceing now in his arm (and Gibson, too), I bet they still wouldn’t change a thing.

    Neither would Verlander if he was allowed to throw 7, 8 or 9 innings (140 pitches) every game for the next five seasons, then had to retire early.

    He probably would have a World Series ring to show for it. And all that money, too.

  32. Chuck Says:

    For me, the compromise on pitch counts is a four man rotation. If Joe Girardi wanted to send Joba out wearing a skirt every four days, there is no reason he can’t throw 120 pitches and complete 30% of his starts.

    If the mentality of today’s game says we have to protect pitchers because they’re signing 15 million bonus deals, fine, but to put someone on a 100 pitch count AND pitch once every five days is almost a contradiction.

    The reason Stephen Strasburg is getting 10-12 minor league starts is to get him accustomed to a heavier workload and also to learn how to pitch as a pro.

    When he gets to Washington, he isn’t going to end up as some namby-pamby fifth starter, he’s going to be their number one guy.

    Mike Rizzo’s background is as a scout/PD guy, he knows WTF he’s doing.

  33. Raul Says:

    It’s the perception, Joe.

  34. Joseph DelGrippo Says:

    The Royals pulled Greinke tonight after 7 innings and 108 pitches with a 3-2 lead.

    The bullpen lost the lead and the game is now 3-3.

    Guess the new manager hasn’t learned from the prior manager, who is now unemployed.

    When will this pitch count (and lose the game) madness end?

  35. Chuck Says:

    The Royals bullpen has blown the lead in every one of Greinke’s starts this season.

    His only win was a CG.

    The irony isn’t lost.

    David Wright’s AB in the fourth inning tonite is a sign of someone who is clueless at the plate.

    He swung and missed on a fastball, curve, and change.

    Most guys when they’re struggling do so on fastballs because their timing is off. The reason why Pujols and other great hitters don’t have prolonged slumps is because they are smart enough to lay off pitches and to fight themselves out by hitting pitches they can handle, i.e, slower pitches.

    Wright is having trouble with everything right now.

    Maybe he should go to an eye doctor, it helped Brian McCann.

  36. Lefty33 Says:

    “I also agree with Chuck, if you’re over 100 pitches after 5 innings, you probably should be pulled because you probably lack command on that particular day, not because you may get hurt.”

    But the problem is that so many guys even in the minors are doing that on a regular basis.

    My example is the Phillies 2007 1st round pick Joe Savery.

    He was made six starts this year, only pitched thirty-three innings and is averaging almost exactly 100 pitches in those starts.

    And while the guy is still only 24, he has given up more hits than innings pitched at almost every level he’s has been at while tinkering with three ball counts on seemingly every hitter.
    And to quote Buster Olney in talking about Dice-K yesterday, “his infielders are reading chapter books between pitches”.

    Sometimes I think the blame is clearly with the organization.

    If you are rushing a young guy really fast through your system and he is exhibiting a bunch of less the ideal qualities that he’s clearly not being given time to fix, what kind of pitcher do you think you’re going to get at the ML level or even a high minor league level?

    Shit in = Shit out

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