ANYONE who knows their baseball will tell you pitching is all about location. Typically they’re talking about pitch location, but this season field location — and field condition — has been almost as important.
It’s been a wet spring everywhere in the state, but it’s been more like a pool than a puddle in some places. The never-ending rain has caused one postponed game after another. It’s been the worst in the northern part of the state, where wet field conditions prevented some teams from practicing outside before they were scheduled to open their season.
Some schools, like Concord and Exeter, have been able to navigate their schedule without too much difficulty. Of course those two programs are both blessed with deep pitching staffs. Having a field that can handle a reasonable amount of water helps as well.
More often than not, coaches have had to get creative with their pitching staffs in an attempt to deal with back-loaded schedules. Playing four or even five games in a week has become the norm for some teams.
Now, for those who don’t know, high school pitchers in New Hampshire are limited in the number of pitches they can throw over a certain period of time. Here are the NHIAA restrictions for varsity pitchers:
• 76 or more pitches in a day: three days of rest are required.
• 51-75 pitches in a day: two days of rest are required.
• 26-50 pitches in a day: one day of rest is required.
• 1-25 pitches in a day: no rest is required.
These rules, coupled with the large number of postponements, has taxed pitching staffs. Take Pinkerton Academy, for example. Pinkerton’s 4-3 loss to Bedford on Saturday was the Astros’ fifth game in five days.
The onslaught of games forced Pinkerton coach Steve Campo to use freshman Liam Doyle as his starting pitcher against Bedford. Not only was it Doyle’s varsity pitching debut, but prior to that contest he had one inning of varsity pitching experience. (Doyle acquitted himself well by allowing one run in 2 2/3 innings against the Bulldogs).
Doyle was one of two junior varsity pitchers the Astros called up to deal with the five-games-in-five-days stretch.
“It was tough,” Pinkerton pitching coach Kyle Harvell said. “We used five different starting pitchers. It’s the only time I can remember using five (starters) in a week.
“We used eight pitchers this week. Typically we use four or five, so we’re twice as far down our pitching staff. We just decided not to look at pitch counts and try to win the game that was in front of us, and then figure it out as we go. Our guys really answered the bell. It kind of forces you to find out what you’ve got.”
But not everybody has the luxury of having two quality JV kids who can pitch at the varsity level. And not every program has a staff as deep as Pinkerton’s.
Even a strong program like Portsmouth has had a hard time finding enough pitching. Portsmouth coach Tim Hopley said his team typically used five pitchers in a 16-game Division II schedule — Portsmouth moved to Division I this year — but the Clippers have used eight pitchers through 11 games this season. Seven of those pitchers have made at least three appearances.
“Early in the season, with so many rainouts, I was able to use my top two pitchers as starters and relievers as they were nowhere near the pitch count and rest-day periods,” John Stark of Weare coach Dennis Pelletier said. “One has pitched in seven games and the other in six through 10 games. Next week will be a challenge with four games in five days, and I’m already working on things. Basically it’s play one game at a time and adjust from there.
“I watch the weather forecasts quite a bit and I adjust where I can. A lot of times this year I just went with next best guy available because tomorrow it’s going to rain.”
Some coaches have stayed with pitchers longer than they typically would while others have pulled pitchers sooner than normal to keep them under their pitch limit so they would be available later in the week. In some cases position players have had to pitch.
“The biggest issue we’ve faced is the impact that the weather has had on our in-season throwing programs,” Spaulding of Rochester pitching coach Brad Taylor explained. “Rotations are constantly being juggled, throwing programs altered, and their in-season conditioning and long-toss routines have been thrown off. Proper pitcher fielding practices are very tough to duplicate inside the gym, and long toss is impossible. Every day a game gets postponed means that we’re stuck inside the gym. The biggest consequence of that is that then we lose a valuable outdoor practice the following week when the game is made up.”
Injuries to some of his junior varsity pitchers plus a busy schedule over the next two weeks has Nashua South coach James Gaj following the Tampa Bay Rays “opener” strategy. Gaj said in at least one of his games this week he will use one of his players as an “opener” and pitch him only an inning or two before trying to piece things together with relievers after that.
South still has eight games to play, and if some of those games get rained out this week his Panthers will be dealing with a hectic final week.
“Not sure what else to do,” Gaj said. “We still have to play half a season in the next two weeks.”
The New England College baseball team will find out where it’s headed for this year’s NCAA Division III baseball tournament when the field is announced Monday at noon. Fifty-eight teams will compete in the tournament, which will feature 13 four-team regionals (double elimination) and three two-team regionals (best of five). Regional games will begin Friday.
The 16 teams that advance will play in eight best-of-three super regionals on May 24-25. NEC earned a spot in this year’s NCAA Division III tournament by beating Mitchell College 2-1 in the New England Collegiate Conference championship game.
Daryle Banfield, a 2015 St. Paul’s School graduate, signed a free agent deal with the Chicago Bears last week. Banfield, a native of the Bronx, N.Y., played defensive tackle at Brown. Before that, he spent four years at SPS, where he was an offensive guard and defensive tackle.