Pitchers are replaced when the emphasis is on winning

Cal Ripken

June 11, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR. | CAL RIPKEN JR.,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In our youth league, we have seen a trend in which teams have one or two pretty good pitchers and a couple that might need some practice. They will pitch their better player the first couple of innings, and if all is going well, switch to a less accomplished player to finish the game. If things get close in the later innings, they bring back their starter as a type of closer. What effect do you think this has on the pitcher's arm that has a break in his pitching time?

Rich Krutsch, Fort Smith, Ark.

DEAR RICH -- I think many of us who have been successful pitchers at the youth level have been there. I can remember starting the game on the mound, being moved to shortstop and then being brought back in to pitch. It often occurs when there is a greater emphasis on winning.

For the youngest, the emphasis should be more on developing the pitchers by teaching them the proper mechanics and then allowing them first to throw to a catcher and later to face opponents in a game situation. It is important to protect these kids, not only physically, but also their psyches. A lot of patience must be applied. Young pitchers must learn to stand out there on the rubber and to face hitters. That's the only way they are going to develop. If you pull them - or more important, if they fear being pulled - whenever something goes wrong, they are going to either feel too much pressure when they pitch or not want to go out there at all.

If winning is one of the team's primary goals, then the strategy about when to pull and replace a pitcher depends on the success that pitcher is having that day. How to handle these situations depends primarily on the philosophy of the team and the league. For younger pitchers, however, it is important to allow them to develop.

I coach nine- and 10-year-old girls in fast- pitch softball. The biggest problem I have is how to coach batting. It seems that most girls hold the bat with hands touching and all the way at the end of the bat. I was taught to keep about a 2-inch space between my hands. Is this technique still taught or is it obsolete? If it is valid, what advantage does it provide?

Jon Stuart, Ellicott City

DEAR JON -- Holding a bat so that there is a space between the hands is pretty unconventional. It can make swinging with any real force or fluidity extremely difficult. But Eddie Murray, my former teammate and a baseball Hall of Famer, sometimes would hit with a little space between his hands when he was struggling. He said that it gave him better control of the barrel of the bat.

The argument against hitting this way is that generating power or bat speed can be more difficult. Some players might find that they do have a little better bat control. Throughout history some of baseball's better hitters used a similar grip. Ty Cobb hit with a space between his hands and hit for a very high average, spraying the ball to all fields.

Nine- and 10-year-old girls may lack strength, so it can be OK to teach them to hit that way if they are having trouble making contact. But many types of bats - including styles that are very light -can help with this, too. Generally speaking, hitting with the hands separated is not a good method, however I'm not totally against trying it when someone is struggling.

I have a 12-year-old boy who plays baseball in a small town. He puts his heart and soul into the sport, but often doesn't get much of a chance to play. How do we find a competitive league where he might get more of a chance to play?

DeWayne Wheeler, Heber Springs, Ark.

DEAR DEWAYNE -- When people look for competitive baseball leagues for their children to play in, generally speaking they feel that their kids have developed enough mentally and physically to be able to perform in a more pressurized situation in which their skills will be measured against others. This is how "travel" teams and leagues seem to develop.

When figuring out what league is best for your child, you have to objectively gauge the skills of your boy and find a place to play will provide him with the most opportunity. If you feel that your kid is not as good, and that's why he's not playing, then you may want to find a place where the philosophy about playing time is slightly different. If you feel like your child is being treated unfairly, then you should try to have a private discussion with the coach about his or her philosophy when it comes to allocation of playing time. If your philosophies don't match, it probably is a good idea to look elsewhere.

If your child simply isn't good enough to play much where he is, it's OK to accept that and to look elsewhere. He may develop a little later than some of the other kids do, but his chances of developing while sitting on the bench are slim. Many youth baseball stars don't make their high school teams, while some of the others who weren't stars do. The important thing is to find a place where he can get an opportunity to swing the bat and play and where the opportunity to play matches his desire and skill level.

Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Send it by e-mail to askcal@baltimoresun.com.

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