FORT WAYNE – There are usually three things that can cause an injury to a pitcher, according to Randy Smith.
Bad mechanics. Overuse. And bad luck.
The third one we can’t do anything about, said Smith, the director of player development/international scouting for the San Diego Padres, the major league affiliate of the TinCaps. But the first two we’re going to do everything we can to try to clean up guys’ mechanics and avoid the overuse part of it.
That’s where pitch counts and inning limits come into play.
Fort Wayne starting pitchers are generally limited between 120 and 130 innings a season, Smith said.
The benefits and the reasons why are basically the same thing – to avoid injury, Smith said.
Health is also the overriding factor for the team’s pitch count. Fort Wayne starters begin the season with a pitch count at 85, according to Smith. It can go up to 90 to 95 and the rare top number is 110 pitches.
There’s a lot of times a pitcher is throwing the ball really well, but we’ve got to get him out of there based on their inning counts for the season, TinCaps pitching coach Willie Blair said. A lot of times, they’d like to stay out there. A lot of times we’d like to leave them in there, but at the same time, we’re looking out for their long-term health.
Blair has a clicker that keeps track of the number of pitches. There also is a pitcher in the stands charting and counting the pitches.
I’ll look up and whistle at them to make sure I’m right with my clicker, Blair said. We keep a close eye on it.
Fort Wayne pitchers know the benefits of making quick work of the competition.
I know that if I have a long inning, I need to come out the next inning and look for getting a quick inning so I can keep my pitch count low and go deeper into games, said starter Cody Hebner, who has thrown 42 2/3 innings this season. I haven’t been going too deep into games, and I need to work on working more efficiently and keep my defense in the game. It’s only going to help me and help my team.
Fort Wayne also uses a piggy-back system, in which designated relievers work on a specific days for extended innings. Justin Hancock and Ruben Mejia are currently in that role for the TinCaps.
The piggy-backs are guys we still view as starters, they’re on a routine and pitching every four days and getting side work in between, Blair said. They are not building up quite as many innings as the starters, but they are still getting their innings and they are in a routine. When those guys pitch, it gives us a day to regroup with our bullpen.
Smith said pitchers will jump an additional 20 to 25 innings next season.
There are a few years between now and the 200 innings they are going to have to throw in the big leagues, Smith said. So we’re going to ease them into it.