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How to get the most out of that skimpy pitching staff. (Baseball).

THOUGH PITCHING IS the most vital component of winning baseball, very few coaches ever feel that they have enough of it to stay competitive game after game.

Having coached high school, then small college, and now middle school, I can attest to the perennial thinness of the pitching staffs at those levels. In the three years I coached high school pitchers, we always seemed to have one or two good pitchers who shared the heavy load plus two, three, or four others who divided the rest of the innings.

What generally happened was that we seemed to be scratching for strikes and outs about every other game.

Pretty much the same thing happened to me at the college level, except that we had more pitchers. But that was offset by the increased number of games and innings we had.

We found ourselves at wits end trying to figure out how to make the most out of our pitching staffs. It wasn't until I got to Maryville College (TN) that I began putting together a system that would give all our pitchers their innings while providing quality pitching for at least part or a game.

I realized that, along with the usual one or two aces, we generally had about four other pitchers who, even without a good fastball or nasty "stuff," could still get people out, plus a couple of others who could eat up some innings along the way.

Now all I had to do was figure how to get the most out or them every day without unduly stressing their young arms.

I realized that we had to start by setting some limits and making sure everybody understood the reasons for it. We began by using pitch counts in practice to limit the number of throws by each pitcher and, then, as the season progressed, increasing the number of pitches.

Our pitchers maxed out at 85 pitches per outing--though in certain games the number could go slightly higher.

We also followed some self-made guidelines on rest days between outings, Basically, any pitcher throwing more than 76 pitches would not be given the ball again until he got his four day rest. That way we didn't endanger any arms.

Next, we had to decide how we were going to stay competitive whenever an ace was not available to throw. That was where that strong #2 pitcher came in. Instead of using him as a starter, we put him in the first relief role. That enabled us to go to the pen without reservations about the quality of the guy we were bringing in.

Our #2 was used in this first relief role whether the need arose early in the game or in the traditional closer setting, unless the score was one-sided. In that case, we could use someone else to keep from potentially wasting #2 in a needless outing.

In order to do this, our # I had to be durable, providing us with quality outings whenever he got the ball. He had to work deep in most of his starts and then be ready to start again after adequate rest.

#2 also had to be durable and perhaps even be a better pitcher than #1. He had to be able to throw a lot of strikes and keep people off the base paths. #3 and the rest of the staff had to be versatile--able to start or relieve when called upon.

Last season, playing 14 games in only five weeks, this system paid off heavily for us. Our team finished 11-3, losing two games by one run each. The pitching staff comprised of eight pitchers, combined for an ERA of 2.49 with five saves to go with the 11 wins. Only two pitchers had ERA's over 4.00. Four of them were under 2.00.

All the pitchers recorded at least one start and all but one had what any coach would consider quality starts on the middle school level.

Anyone who would like to develop young pitchers and still be competitive on whatever level he coaches may find this system right for him.
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Author:Sherman, Jeff
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2003
Words:686
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