“This is the time for me to focus on pitching to contact and getting quick outs, not worrying about strikeout counts,” he said.
“I can throw hard, and striking out kids is a good thing, but in these games I’m trying to get tail on my ball, keep it low, and get ground-ball outs. Especially when it’s cold and teams won’t be hitting the ball quite as hard anyway,’’ Smithers said.
“Right now, a seven-pitch inning is much more valuable to me and my team than a 27-pitch inning with three strikeouts and a walk.”
While top pitchers like Smithers can work on fine-tuning their control to cope with lower pitch counts, coaches use this time of year to see what they have for pitching depth. If their strongest arms are off the mound in the fifth inning, that leaves work to be done for the rest of the pitching staff.
“It’s a silver lining for sure,” said St. John’s High coach Charlie Eppinger .
“You’ve got a couple guys you count on and you hope by May they’re lengthened out to 6- or 7-inning outings and maybe complete games. But early in the season, the silver lining for them not being able to go as deep is you learn a lot about the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh pitcher you’ve got, because you put them into those game situations,’’ he said.
“It is nice to be forced to use multiple pitchers because that way you get to see multiple guys.”
Until the weather warms, and pitchers build their arm strength, coaches will be keeping a close eye on their progression and their pitch counts. It’s their job to keep the bigger picture in mind when determining how long a player’s start should last because it’s not always as easy call for high school players, regardless of their talent level.
“If I’m pitching a good game, I don’t want to come out,” Burns said. “But if you can feel yourself getting tired or your mechanics slipping, it’s better to realize that and give the ball off to someone else rather than hurt yourself.”
Phil Perry can be reached at email@example.com.