Greeson, Courter: Responsibility required on pitch counts

Greeson, Courter: Responsibility required on pitch counts

May 17th, 2014 by Barry Courter , Jay Greeson in Sportscolumns

JAY: Barry, with all the hubbub this week about Tommy John surgeries and then a high school kid throwing 194 pitches in a 14-inning appearance, let's talk about pitching arms.

How much do you think is on the coach and how much is on the parents and pitcher?

BARRY: It's all on the coach, isn't it? I mean, who else is calling the shots on the field? Many good pitchers all want the ball and believe they have another out in them.

Which reminds me of a great story baseball coach Greg Dennis at Chattanooga State tells. Back in Texas where he coached for a bit, a veteran pitching coach went to yank his guy. The pitcher saw him coming and came off the hill pleading, "I'm OK, Coach. I'm not tired."

The old guy stuck his hand out for the ball and said, "I know you're not, son, but your outfielders are."

JAY: That's awesome. No pitcher wants to leave the game, but that decision should be made with more than the outcome of that day's game.

Nobody wants to leave a game, but I know my 6-year-old wants Skittles with every meal. Sometimes those decisions need to be made by those in charge.

BARRY: I've heard of a daddy overruling a coach who pushed his pitcher well beyond the 120-pitch count in a high school game, and I understand a coach's dilemma. You're in a tight or must-win game and all you have left on the bench is your scorekeeper, but 194 pitches is close to three games worth for most guys.

And you made a great point on the "Press Row" radio program you co-host on 105.1 FM the other day pointing out that most kids pitch year round now.

Here's what Coach Dennis has to say on the topic:

"We deal with that all of the time and are very conscious of it now in these 'politically correct' days ... parents more aware of it, so therefore WE need to be more aware of it. Certainly the younger the players the more conscious of it we need to be and keep them safe. As they get older, I think, it needs to be responsibly monitored by responsible individuals. High school coaches SHOULD BE but really aren't always very aware. College coaches definitely have to be. Much has to do with the individual and their particular ability to work through outings with relatively high pitch counts and ability to recover."

JAY: Well said.

Leagues and teams recently have taken a lot of steps with inning counts, and the awareness alone makes this an easier conversation to have, especially from the players' perspective.

But with kids playing year round -- and for multiple teams -- it's something that is not going away.

BARRY: The biggest issue I had coaching middle school baseball was that some of the kids also were on travel teams. Every week we'd have a game on Monday or Tuesday and one or two of my pitchers would have thrown in an out-of-town tournament on Sunday, meaning he was done pitching for the week. Or we'd have a game Friday and a parent would tell me the kid had pitching lessons for an hour the night before.

I understood. Mommy and daddy are paying big money for those lessons and to be on the travel team, but it sure complicated things.

I know a lot of coaches and parents have a magic number, whether it's 40 pitches a game or 80 or 100. I used that as a guide but not a hard count. Every kid is different, but to me it's not just about how many pitches that game but that week. A lot of times your catcher also pitches, which means he's throwing a bunch before he hits the mound.

JAY: You're right, every kid and every situation is different, but the call has to be about arm safety.

There have been more than 20 Tommy John surgeries of big-league pitchers this season already, including three for the Atlanta Braves.

That is too many to be coincidence. In some ways the surgery has become so successful and part of the process that teams and players look at it as a precautionary move in some ways. It's like some view it with the thought, "Why work your way through elbow soreness and ineffectiveness when the Tommy John surgery costs you a year and hits the reset button?"