By Kristopher Rivera , El Paso Times
The University Interscholastic League Standing Committee on Athletics voted in June to continue studying baseball pitching limitations.
During an April meeting, the UIL Medical Advisory Committee passed a proposal on pitching restrictions (pitch count) for UIL baseball. This proposal was considered in June by the UIL Standing Committee on Athletics. Any proposal would have to be approved by the UIL Legislative Council and the commissioner of education before taking effect, said a spokeswoman with the UIL.
A local pitching coach, Andy Powers, suggests the UIL can take a direction that emphasizes communication and education. He recommends the UIL educate coaches on what goes into a throw. At the end of the day, the UIL cannot control what coaches, athletes can do on a daily basis; all it can do is provide suggestions and guidelines, said Powers, founder of the Texas Pitching Institute in El Paso.
“Pitch counts are a Band-Aid on a gaping wound,” Powers said. “Where I feel a pitch count is important is to protect kids from their coaches.”
The overall goal of the UIL is to reduce the number of pitching-related injuries in high school baseball.
Important factors to take into account is the biomechanical piece of how pitchers are throwing the baseball, their level of strength, level of conditioning and the fatigue factor, which is the main precursor to injury, Powers said.
At the Texas Pitching Institute, Powers and his staff create programming specific to each individual’s needs. It starts with treating the arm pain, if necessary, and eliminating it before moving forward. Eighty percent of the work done there is arm care: the strength and conditioning component, throwing and then diving into the art of pitching.
“From there it’s all about building a level of strength and doing it with the best information available today from a biomechanical standpoint, strength and conditioning standpoint,” Powers said. “A vital piece is the communication factor that we’re not having yet between coaches, parents and players especially.”
In the pitching world, a quality start is 12 to 15 pitches, which is 75 pitches through five frames. But that doesn’t always happen. Identifying fatigue in a pitcher and addressing it is one of the best ways to avoid injury.
“When you start getting tired, you start breaking down and when we start forcing actions like throwing a baseball with high intensity and high velocity, you’re flirting with disaster,” Powers said.
Then there’s the lack of communication between players, coaches and parents. Pitchers want to play, so they will lie, if necessary, in order to play, Powers said. If not that, pitchers might just want to avoid coming across as soft or perceived as making excuses, he added.
Aside from the topics of fatigue and communication, Powers pointed out that issues might come from players playing in multiple teams in multiple leagues, which can make a pitcher’s arm vulnerable to overuse.
Injuries may occur if a pitcher has changed or altered his mechanics and is now placing stressors and load on joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons in ways that they were not accustomed to endure. If a young player is going through a growth spurt, his muscles, ligaments and tendons haven’t had a chance to catch up to the growth and will be stressed, weak and vulnerable to injury, Powers said.
“Tragically, I’m seeing a larger intake of guys coming to me who’ve already had Tommy John surgery or a labrum (injury),” Powers said. “They’ve gone through rehab to the point they can start throwing again to start getting back.”
“The surgery doesn’t make you throw harder; the rehab does,” Powers added.
In Tommy John surgery, doctors replace the ulnar collateral ligament in the medial elbow with a tendon from elsewhere in the body.
“What happens is when we come forward and throw, when we go back to external rotation, that UCL stretches, but all other forearm muscles around you contract and get shorter,” Powers said. “The harder they contract, they relieve tension off the UCL.”
The decelerator muscles, everything in the back of the shoulder blade (scapula), are important to develop and strengthen to prevent shoulder injuries.
“The chances of getting hurt are actually greater after you throw the baseball. The deceleration process is ridiculously violent and it happens in a very short period of time,” Powers said. “The glenohumeral bone (shoulder joint) inserts into the socket and it’s a very mobile socket with lots of range and motion, but it’s also very shallow, so the stability of the socket is not very good.”
Powers said hand cleans and inverted rows are great workouts for pitchers.
“The better breaks that you build, the better off you’re going to be,” Powers said.
Regarding rest, Pitch Smart suggests a four month rest period in a year. However, Powers said that is “a two-part deal.” He agrees there are times through the year when there should be zero throwing — at the end of spring season, end of summer and around the Thanksgiving holiday, but with no more than a two week rest period each time.
He said research shows that it takes as little as two weeks for pitchers to get out of throwing shape.
“We can go run, work out and get in shape, but there’s an element of what we call throwing shape: being able to throw a baseball to a certain velocity over a period of time,” Powers said.
Then there’s the recovery process, which is 50 percent of the battle, Powers said.
Pitchers should avoid icing the arm unless there is swelling. When throwing the baseball, muscle fibers wear and tear. In the recovery process, ice slows blood flow and prevents the recovery process. Blood flow supplies oxygen and nutrients to reduce pain in joints and relax sore muscles, ligaments and tendons.
“The communication and education process of this is where it has to go,” Powers said. “The gains people want to make happen when they listen to their arm on a daily basis.”
At the institute, Powers works with a team of medical specialists. His team includes Dr. Dan Romanelli, an orthopedic surgeon; physical therapist Mark Figueroa; and chiropractor Dr. Larry Jones, who is also the Chihuahuas’ team chiropractor.
Powers was a head baseball coach at Franklin High from 2010-13. In 2011, his team ranked No. 3 in the state in the old Class 5A and 24th nationally, he said.
From 2007-09, Powers was an assistant pitching coach at Lamar University. Before that, he spent a year coaching at Paris (Texas) Junior College. From 2004-06, he oversaw a college development program.
Powers played collegiately as pitcher. He played two years at the University of Missouri of the Big 12 conference and then transferred to New Mexico, where he wrapped up his last two years as a Lobo.
For more information, go to: www.TexasPitchingInstitute.com