It’s already tough enough to win a state title in baseball, but the new regulations on pitchers and the number of pitches allowed will undoubtedly break some hearts this weekend.
I don’t know who, or where, but at least one of the regional teams competing this weekend in the OHSAA baseball tourney will be shaking its head over the age-old conundrum of not having your best pitching arm available when you need it most.
The problem is, you see, that most high school teams aren’t as deep in pitching as they’d like to be – not when a trip to the state Final Four is on the line. A lot of coaches might believe they have eight capable and experienced arms on their roster of 15 or 16 – arms that they could turn to in a crisis.
But realistically, when the bases are loaded in the bottom of the sixth and you go to your bullpen, you’re probably putting in someone who’s never been in that far before…like the old Conway Twitty song.
The problem is made worse now by the new regulation on pitchers this spring…that says if you pitched too much yesterday in the semi-final round game you can’t come back and pitch in the Friday final, even if you want to. In crisis time, a coach now has to turn to a more unknown commodity.
I’ve always maintained that a title in high school baseball is the toughest of all the OHSAA championships to win. It is because you can’t hide anyone in baseball. Even the big, slow, un-athletic kid you park out in right field will eventually have a fly ball hit to him that must be caught to save a run…or the game.
The worst hitter on the team will inevitably come to the plate in the bottom of the seventh with the tying or winning run on third base. The game is on his head; and he’s got to come through.
In basketball and football you can hide someone that can’t score, or that can’t run. You can compensate with other parts of your lineup. Not so in baseball. The ball will eventually find you and there’s no compensating. You either do, or you don’t.
Now, there’s the issue of how many pitches did you throw yesterday. The new National Federation rules says that if you throw 31 pitches in the semi-final game on Thursday, you have to sit out a complete game before you can pitch again. The idea is to help protect young arms from overuse. Only, most of the pitchers I talked to this spring laugh at the notion of resting a day after throwing 31 pitches.
“It’s ridiculous,” said one very outspoken pitcher in April. “I could throw 50 pitches three days in a row if I wanted to, and feel fine. I condition all year for this, and now someone tells me I can’t play when I need to play because they think they know my body better than I know my body.”
Another player simply added: “It’s a horrible rule. It’s an old man’s rule that doesn’t make sense.”
All of these people spoke off the record, of course, but most coaches shake their heads and quote baseball and pitching legends who have maintained for a hundred years, “The only way to build arm strength is to throw. The more you throw the stronger you get. If you’re mechanically sound, there’s nothing wrong with throwing.”
Of course there are programs who are unfazed by the new directive, teams that legitimately have enough arms to rotate. But they’re bigger schools with more boys, with greater depth in experience and tradition – teams like Defiance and Moeller. But smaller Division IV teams don’t have the luxury of numbers. Many failed to field a JV team this spring because…they didn’t have enough boys.
But mark my word, teams like Minster, Russia and Fort Loramie will feel the pinch this weekend if they don’t get an efficient effort from their Thursday starter, whoever that may be. If you’re lucky enough to get to Friday it gets a little dicey when you start wondering about who can throw strikes and get you some outs. It’s always been that way.
Of course, they’ve planned for the new rule. Except, somehow it was easier for Bill Sturwold when he could take Jordan Goldschmidt out on Thursday after 50 pitches to save him for Friday.
It was easier for Mike Wiss to take Doug Huber out after five innings, knowing he could come back tomorrow if you needed him.
It was peace of mind of Kevin Phlipot to have Treg Francis in reserve, just in case.
But now, if your shortstop threw two innings in relief on Thursday and used 31 pitches to do it, he’s done. You might have to use the big kid out in right field – who’s never pitched with a state Final Four on the line!
Again, the intent of the rule is probably sound. There has always been the example of a young arm overused – because no one knew when enough was enough back then.
But when Bob Gibson and Greg Maddux say the only way to get a stronger arm is to use it…well, who do you believe? Theory, or a hall of famer?
Like I said, it just got tougher to win the toughest title of all.