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Managing the Two-Way Player

Managing the Two-Way Player

By: Charlie Wentzky-December 17, 2007

So often we hear people talking about a kid getting over-used as a pitcher. In other words, his coach pitches him too much, or too often. These comments only come from what a large majority of people physically see a kid do while he is on the mound. I have heard stories of many parents or other coaches complaining of a kid throwing too many pitches during a game and even voicing their opinions during the game about it. These are the kids who throw 120-200 pitches an outing.

Throwing that many pitches for a high school pitcher is too much for one outing and a majority of people (including parents) understand that. But my question is: Do people notice when say a shortstop pitches in relief twice a week that he too may have his arm “over-used” as well? Even if he only throws 30 pitches an outing?

What? That was your reaction I am sure, but most of us can see the obvious and know when a pitcher throws too many pitches in one game. Some call it “getting tired” while others call it for what it is. Many people however do not see, or take into account, how many throws a kid makes throughout the course of the week. This will include every warm up throw before practice and games, every throw he makes during practice, every BP throw he makes in the cage during practice, throws he makes between innings to get loose, throws he makes to record outs in a game, and every pitch he makes in the bullpen or on the mound during the game.

When you take time to add all of that up it can come up to an incredibly large number. When I was in college we played a weekend series against a conference foe and the same guy closed the Saturday night game by throwing the final three innings and started the Sunday game and threw into the ninth inning.

Too many throws?

As players we commented on it and one of our coaches said “add the number of throws he didn’t make off the mound to that total.” We did and we determined that he threw 200 or so pitches from the mound and made another 200 plus throws over the course of the weekend either getting loose or between innings. 400 throws for one player over three days is a lot considering that at least 300 of them were done at 100 percent.

So many people pay close attention to the number of throws a kid makes during a game, but often forget about the “other” throws they make during the course of the week. This creates a problem on the high school, AAU and Little League level simply because we have many players who pitch and play a position, or in other words are a two-way player.

Here at Spring Valley we have only had one kid who was just a pitcher in the last three years. Every other pitcher we have had contributes to us at another position as well. Because of this, we have to pay close attention to how many throws they make during the course of the week, including “live” throws from the mound. We do pay close attention to the number of pitches our kids throw live from the mound. I don’t like to throw our kids more than 100-110 pitches per outing (that is from the middle of the year on for us, usually that number is around 80 early in the season). When a kid throws more than 30 pitches in an outing we make him wait at least a full day before we use him again. (However, come playoff time, this number can change depending on the kid.) Throughout the year we, as coaches, pay close attention to the number of throws our kids make during the week to keep them from throwing too much. Here are a few ideas that we use that help a kid limit his throws during a week.

Talk to the kid:. Ask him how his arm feels. Try to get a feel for whether he will tell you the truth or not. Some kids will tell you the truth, while others will tell you what they think you want to hear. Let the kid know that its okay of they are sore. You can work with that. Be sure to explain to them when they need to take it easy on their arm and why. Having the kid understand the importance of taking care of his arm makes your job as a coach easier.

Limit his throws: Every kid we have gets loose every day. This may be a light 30-40 foot toss, or it could be a regular long toss. Before each practice we try to remind kids what they need to do that day to get loose. If he has just pitched, or is getting ready to pitch, he will throw less. When working on defensive skills, don’t make them throw every rep. We use buckets to help us limit the number of throws we make. For instance, when we will hit fly balls to our outfielders instead of making them throw it back in to us, or to another player, we simply have them put the ball in the bucket. When the bucket gets full, they bring in the balls. We do the same for our infielders, but we do have them throw occasionally. Usually our guys will work on throwing across the diamond two times a week. Our shortstop, for instance, will field anywhere from 400-500 ground balls a week, but will only make about 50 throws over that same time. You can still get great reps without making a ton of throws!!!

Save Your Bullets: This expression I learned from my college coaches. What does it mean? Well, the army doesn’t fire all of its live rounds during practice training missions, so why do we have to use 100% of our arm strength during practice? We spend a great deal of time talking with our kids about making 80% throws. I want our guys to use 80% of their max arm strength when making throws during practice. This does not include their long toss routine, but it is more for the normal throwing that goes on. It’s unfair to the kid to ask them to use 100% of their arm strength on every throw they make in practice. There are times where they use max effort, but it’s very rare that we ask that of them during practice. Save your bullets for when you really need them.

Make a Plan: Plan ahead who you plan to use as pitchers during your games. This will be a “Perfect World” plan and it can be adjusted as needed. This will help you map out what a kid needs to do during the week to help him make fewer throws. This plan can be done every two weeks so you can make changes and adjustments as you go. Having a plan allows you as a coach to better monitor how much a kid throws. The last thing you need is to have your shortstop make 50 throws during infield on Thursday and start the game pitching on Friday.

Limit Bullpen Throws: There is no need to throw 30-40 pitch bullpens twice a week for a high school pitcher. You can work on mechanics without using a baseball and can throw flat-grounds daily to work on location. Our pitchers finish their long toss routine by throwing flat-ground bullpens to each other. This usually is 10-15 pitches from 45 feet with the kids throwing at about 75-80% effort. We do this at least three times a week. We do throw bullpens, but we never go more than 25 pitches and each kid only throws one bullpen during practice a week. We get a ton of our pitching work done on flat-ground and with dry-drills during practice.

Put the Well-being of the Kid Over the Outcome: The hardest part of being a coach and limiting how many throws a kid makes is the possibility of losing because you try to do what’s best for the kid. I personally am very competitive, but will not compromise the well-being of a kid for a win. I might regret it that night, but I surely will not regret it down the road. The tough part about this is that kids will try to talk you into wanting to throw and throwing them. This gets hard because you know as a competitor that you want them to as well, but your better judgment tells you otherwise. For instance I had a kid last year in a tough game want to come in relief late in the game. I told him on the mound that I knew he did, but he had just pitched six innings two days before and it was a little too soon. I knew going out there he was going to tell me he wanted to throw, so thankfully I had made my mind up what I was going to tell him. That’s the toughest situation for me personally as a coach to deal with. Thankfully I have had plenty of good mentors along the way who have handled these things before and who have helped show me the appropriate decision to make.

Recovery Time: The big key to arm care is allowing the appropriate amount of recovery time. The amount of time will vary depending on the number of pitches the kid makes during an outing. A general rule of thumb that we use is for every 25-30 pitches, they need at least one full day of recovery before they throw live again to hitters. A guy that gets into the 100’s needs 4-5 days at least before they go back out during the game. Again, this will vary depending on the kid. 

In conclusion, be mindful of not only the number of throws your son/player makes off the mound, but also pay attention to the number of throws they are making elsewhere. Not every coach is the same when it comes to the number of pitches they think is appropriate. My numbers might be higher or lower than some. If you, as a parent or player, have an issue with how many throws you or your son is making, handle it appropriately. Yelling through the fence at a game isn’t the right way to do this. Complaining about it to others also isn’t the way to get it fixed. Request a sit down meeting with your coach where you can talk to them about what is concerning you. Chances are they will have a reason and be able to explain it to you. You may or may not be satisfied with that reason, but there is a good chance that they are just as interested in the well-being of your child as you are. If you handle your end appropriately, chances are they will do the same. Also remember that the younger a kid is, the less he should throw per game and week. A kid 13-under should not make more than 70 pitches in a week. A college pitcher on the other hand could be able to make more than a high school player simply because they are older, stronger and more developed.. As you watch baseball this year and keep up with the number of pitches that you make, be mindful of the number of throws you are making the rest of the week as well. Often times, that number has a greater impact on your arm than the number of pitches per game does.

About the author: Charlie Wentzky is in his third year as the head coach at Spring Valley High School. Last year he led the Vikings into AAAA’s round of four and high expectations surround his program again in 2007. Wentzky was a four-year letter winner at the College of Charleston and graduated ranked at, or near, the top of most pitching categories. Wentzky spends his summers coaching the 18U South Carolina Diamond Devils team.