Heavy schedules throwing prep baseball coaches a curve with pitching staffs

Heavy schedules throwing prep baseball coaches a curve with pitching staffs

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Heavy schedules throwing prep baseball coaches a curve with pitching staffs

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Wausau East coach Steve Heinrich pretty much said what every high school baseball coach in central Wisconsin has been thinking after his team played its first Wisconsin Valley Conference game on May 1.

“I’ve been doing this for 23 years and this is by far the worst spring I have ever seen,” Heinrich said.

Heinrich, and the rest of the baseball coaches in the area, have certainly been thrown for a curve trying to figure out how to set up pitching rotations, making one of the toughest parts of a their job even tougher.

Philosophies on pitching staffs are being tested and revamped on a daily basis.

The balance between winning games and maintaining the health of individual pitchers has become a thin line this spring.

Early signs seem to suggest that the grass between the dugouts and the mounds are going to be more worn out than usual this season as coaches make pitching changes to help save arms.

“We are definitely watching pitch counts, trying to pitch more by committee than in past years. It’s a great opportunity for other guys to step up on the mound,” D.C. Everest coach David Langbehn said. “The old adage ‘you have to play ’em one at a time’ really holds true. So with that we try to win the one we are in, rather than trying to save guys.”

Do you save your No. 1 and No. 2 pitchers for all the important games against the top teams in the conference, and risk overworking them?

Or do you take your chances sending out a less experienced pitcher who might be better suited to toe the rubber in a nonconference game or against weaker competition and let them show their stuff at the risk of picking up an ‘L.’

Smaller schools, with fewer quality arms to choose from, are at even more of a disadvantage in a schedule that features multiple games over a short period of time.

Sometimes there just aren’t enough arms to eat up all the innings required during a busy week in the schedule moving forward.

“We’re a young team. We’ve been doing a lot of teaching and working on techniques, but there is a lot we can’t help with until we get some games on a regular basis,” Assumption coach Mike Schulte said.

“The biggest problem we’ve had is our young guys get tired after three innings because they aren’t used to throwing at the varsity level,” Schulte added. “That’s going to be an issue if we have three to four games in a week because I’ll have to use two and three pitchers in a game.”

Pacelli coach Wayne Sankey says coaches and athletic directors were left with one of two options.

They could just write off some or all of the nonconference games wiped out by the poor weather.

Or those games could be rescheduled, and coaches would have to work around any possible pitching dilemmas that playing six or seven games a week might create.

“We want the kids to play as many games as they possibly can because they deserve that experience,” Sankey said.

He also was quick to point out the late start to the baseball season might actually have been a blessing in disguise.

The added two or three weeks that teams weren’t able to spend outside enabled coaches to work with pitchers more closely for an extended period of time, to help them build up their arm strength.

“To have one week to get pitchers ready (before the start of the season) is not adequate or healthy,” Sankey said. “The nice thing about the whole pitching situation, even with playing a lot of games back-to-back, is that prior to that we were building pitch counts in the gym.

“Plus, you’re just going to have to throw some guys you might not normally against some teams, but it gives those kids some good experience to be in that situation.”

Most area coaches tried to have pitchers build their pitch counts up to the 70 to 80 range while working inside.

Working with pitchers in the gym is one thing.

Counting on young pitchers to soak up more innings than perhaps they’re physically ready to handle is another.

Helping to ease that concern, and help assure kids aren’t at risk for suffering elbow and shoulder injuries is the input coaches receive from medical professionals who are more readily available to schools and teams.

“One thing that has really helped the past few years is our athletic trainers,” Pittsville coach Bill Urban said. “They have our kids dialed in and check with them twice a week to make sure they are OK.”

And coaches are faced with even more decisions.

Wausau West coach Pete Susens figures with so many games scheduled in such a small window before the WIAA playoffs begin, coaches and players might have to be resigned to making due in whatever way possible.

“We will start to see some of the teams’ younger pitchers brought up from JV teams to fill in holes, or maybe there will be some high scoring games in the second game of doubleheaders,” said Susens.

“The next week will start to show the depth of each team’s pitching staff when we actually play three, four or five games in a week.”

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