March 31, 2012 in Washington Voices

Rain puts strain on pitchers

Soggy spring forcing CV to alter schedule
Steve Christilaw schristilaw@msn.com
 
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Senior Jake Hochberg leads an experienced pitching staff at Central Valley. Hochberg has split a pair of decisions in CV’s first four games.
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Barry Poffenroth has a few weather-related worries.

For starters, he is worried about, well, his starters.

The Greater Spokane League is designed for baseball teams to play three games a week during the regular season, but unpredictable weather postpones so many games that the reality is that teams have to play as many as five times in a given week.

CV has been forced to reschedule two of its first six league games because of inclement weather – meaning the Bears have fared better than some teams. Through the middle of the past week, both Mead and North Central had played just two league games. Winless Rogers and league-leading Gonzaga Prep each has played all six of their scheduled games, with the Bullpups having played a pair of nonleague games to boot, helping them to an early 5-1 record.

“It really puts a strain on a pitching staff,” the Central Valley coach said, referring to the postponed schedule. “The rule is that if a pitcher throws more than four innings in a game he has to sit out for 48 hours before he can pitch again. Right now, I’m seriously thinking about pitching three guys in a game, with one going two innings, the second going two innings and the third going three. That way they’ll still be available for me.”

It’s not that the Bears pitching staff isn’t strong enough to handle that many back-to-back games, he insists. It’s that most pitchers have not had enough practice time throwing off an outside mound to live batters.

“We’ve been pretty fortunate over the years in that most of our pitchers aren’t two- or three-sport kids, so they get in a lot of time throwing indoors over the winter. They come in pretty strong to start the season.”

But throwing indoors off a wooden practice mound is not the same thing as throwing outdoors off a dirt mound. It doesn’t feel the same, the conditions change continuously. Learning how to locate pitches within the strike zone takes time and any baseball coach would prefer his hurlers did not gain that experience in games that count.

Fortunately, CV has an experienced pitching staff, having lost just one pitcher from last year’s squad. Senior lefthander Jake Hochberg split a pair of decisions in the first four games. Juniors Brady Simmelink and Trevor Tomlinson, both left-handers, each started one game, with Simmelink earning a win in the Bears’ 14-6 victory over Rogers.

“If you can get through a situation like this and still make the playoffs, you should be OK,” Poffenroth said. “You’ll have good depth and experience and be ready to go. But if you struggle and fall behind in the standings, you might never get there. You’re seeing that already.”

Thursday morning Poffenroth spent a good deal of time scanning the skies, in hopes the rain would stay away long enough for his Bears to get in their scheduled game with Gonzaga Prep. The forecast – calling for storms through today – was foreboding. And it could easily make for the season’s first five-game string this coming week.

Complicating matters, and adding another worry to Poffenroth’s growing list, is the fact that his field is saturated.

“If we could just get a couple days, back-to-back, where it warmed up and didn’t rain, we’d be OK,” he said. “That way the field could drain and it could handle a little rain without it becoming a problem. As it is, the field is saturated – it’s got as much water on it as it can hold. It gets any more and it becomes unplayable.

“I was out there all day Sunday by myself, working on the field getting it ready for us to play on it Monday. But it rained and we couldn’t use it. (Wednesday) we spent two hours in practice working on the field – spending valuable practice time doing what we could to make the field playable. We’ve only had a couple days this season where the whole field was available for us to even practice on.”

Forced indoors, baseball teams can practice hitting inside a batting cage and pitchers can throw off indoor mounds. It’s a close approximation to actually playing baseball, but it’s not the same.

“We saw that in our game with Mt. Spokane,” the coach said. “Our pitchers started leaving the ball up in the strike zone against their hitters and they made us pay for it.

“Our hitters kept popping the ball up, with either pop-ups or flyballs. You can’t do much when you’re hitters are doing that. You don’t realize that you’re underneath the ball when you’re hitting in the cage. You need to take outdoor batting practice to really get a feel for that. You need to hit when you can see the consequences.”

Seniors Ryan Leone and Andres Morales have hit safely in each of CV’s games, and each has had a two-hit outing.

What Poffenroth and his Bears need, the coach insists, is a little routine weather so the team can get into its own routine.

“That’s just it – we haven’t gotten into any kind of a routine,” he said. “When you’re playing every day you just don’t have a chance to work on anything. You don’t have your regular practice days on Monday and Wednesday – not when you’re having to work on your field or move your workout inside.

“You can take ground balls inside off the gym floor all you want. But it’s not going to help you very much because you never get a bad hop that way.”

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