With arm hurting, teenager was right to refuse his coach's request to pitch

ASK CAL

August 05, 2007|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

DEAR CAL -- My son pitches for his 15-and-under travel team. Recently he pitched a complete game and was having some discomfort in his shoulder the next day when the team was playing another game. Other pitchers were having trouble getting the ball over the plate, and the coach asked my son if he could pitch. My son said his arm hurt and he didn't want to throw. After the game, the coach came up to me and said he was disappointed that the kid didn't suck it up and pitch. I didn't quite know how to respond. On one hand, the kid's arm really hurt and he was concerned about making it worse. On the other hand, he was made to look as if he was letting his team down. What do you think he should have done?

DeJuan Marshall, Morgantown, W.Va.

DEAR DEJUAN -- Your son did the right thing. No pitcher, whether he's 15 years old or a 25-year-old big leaguer, should ever be asked by a coach to come back and pitch the day after throwing a complete game. The pitching motion is not something that is natural for our bodies. Every time a pitcher throws a complete game, he damages the muscles of the shoulder. The reason major league pitchers have four days off between starts is that they need that time to let those muscles heal and grow stronger again. A 15-year-old pitcher is still developing physically. No game is so important that a coach should ever consider jeopardizing a kid's future by asking him to do something that even the game's elite players wouldn't be asked to do.

Your only recourse is to ask your son's coach for a private meeting away from the team and other parents. It's going to be hard in that meeting to act like you are not telling the coach how to do his job, but my advice is to take the emotion out of the situation and speak from a position of fact and knowledge. Do some research and find out what is recommended by shoulder and pitching specialists in terms of rest between starts and why rest is necessary. Also come armed with information about the potential damage that can be done to a young pitcher's arm from overuse. You don't need to defend your son. He did the right thing. The goal should be to educate the coach. If, at that point, the coach refuses to see that he handled the situation incorrectly, it might be time to find another place for your son to play.

DEAR CAL -- My son is an 11-year-old left-handed pitcher. Are there any drills or techniques he can use so that his ball doesn't tail so much to the outside?

Debbie Credmar, Eastchester, N.Y.

DEAR DEBBIE -- Sometimes the natural movement you see on many left-handers' pitches can be an advantage - if the pitcher can throw strikes consistently. A ball with some movement on it usually is more difficult to hit than a straight fastball. But if your son consistently throws the ball outside, that is an issue that needs to be addressed.

For young pitchers who throw the ball outside consistently, the first thing to consider is whether they are afraid of hitting the batter. Many leagues set a limit on the number of batters a pitcher can hit in an inning. If the pitcher exceeds that limit, he or she must be removed from the game. The purpose of this rule is to promote safety and keep the game moving; however, sometimes it causes pitchers to try to keep the ball away from the hitters, which can lead to a lot of walks. I would recommend having your son pitch at home in the backyard while you stand in the batter's box or with a dummy or mannequin of some sort in the box representing a live batter to develop more confidence.

If that doesn't seem to be the problem, there are many drills that help refine pitching mechanics. If your son is missing away consistently when pitching to right-handers, it could be because his elbow is dropping below his shoulder at the release point or because his hand is coming inside the ball as he releases it (often called "turning it over"). Check your son's throwing motion at various checkpoints. After he takes the ball out of his glove and lifts his leg to a balance position, he should take the ball down, out and up in a circular motion as he strides forward. At this point, his arm should be straight back toward center field and his hand should be above the ball. This is called the power position. Have him throw from this position without winding up to see if he is dropping his elbow or turning the ball over.

If your son is turning the ball over, have him throw from the power position repeatedly, concentrating on keeping his hand behind the ball as he releases it. If he is dropping his shoulder, there is a drill to help fix that called the tee drill. Have him kneel on one knee with the glove-side knee up and pointed straight toward his target. Place a tee that is set at his shoulder level right next to him on his throwing side. Then have him make the down, out and up circular motion and turn his front shoulder so it points toward the target before throwing to a partner. The goal is for him to make sure his elbow does not drop down to the point that it hits the tee.

Developing proper pitching mechanics is a matter of repetition and creating muscle memory. Have your son do these drills from a shortened distance between games, and you'll see results quickly.

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

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