Pitching rotation is a key to success in youth baseball tournaments. An older team might have eight or 10 pitchers on its roster, but a middle school team will more likely have only one or two good pitchers.
Managing Younger Pitchers
The pitching rotation for 11-year-olds should be determined first and foremost to protect the health of the players and respect the pitch/inning limits established by the tournament. The coaches know their pitchers' abilities and should set the pitching rotation according to the games. All coaches should plan to win each game. Many coaches start one of their weaker pitchers in a game they feel they can win, rather than playing their pitchers in order from 1 to 4.
The relief pitcher or a pitching change may be decided based on the score and inning of the game. Whenever possible, the better pitchers should remain available for the championship round of the tournament.
One parent interviewed for this article related that when his son's team scored three runs in the top of the first inning of a championship game, the coach decided to change his starting pitcher as the original starting pitcher was walking to the mound. The new pitcher had not properly warmed up and did not have a successful start; at the end of the second inning, the team was losing 5-3. The coach put the original starting pitcher into the game, but it was too late to recover, and his team lost 6-4.
When a starting pitcher get ready to throw before a game, he should prepare physically and mentally. Otherwise, if the coach decides to make an abrupt change to the original plan, the player may not be able to mentally handle the last-second adjustment.
Pitching limits established by the tournament must be respected. Coaches must also immediately remove from the mound any player who has an arm problem or a physical ailment. No player has ever earned a college scholarship or been offered a professional contract due to their performance in a tournament they played in when they were 11 years old.
Handling Pitchers 12 and Up
Establishing a pitching rotation for an older team can be more difficult than managing a staff of younger pitchers. Older teams understand which pitchers are better suited to throw against other teams, and coaches can benefit by learning from their players.
I spoke with a college coach who was recruiting at an 18-and-under tournament. He said a team was throwing one of its weaker pitchers, and the game was scoreless in the fifth inning. The college coach asked the team's coach to insert his No. 1 pitcher for an inning so he could see him pitch. He put in his best pitcher in the bottom of the fifth and went on to score six runs in the sixth inning. The college coach said you could see an immediate boost in the players' confidence when their top pitcher went in to the game.
When a coach is developing a pitching rotation that will give his/her team the best chance to win a tournament, he or she should follow these simple steps.
- Evaluate the pitchers and rank them 1 to 8.
- Plan to win every game (throw the best pitcher you have available).
- Communicate with the players and learn which pitcher they have the most confidence in.
- Talk with the pitchers and learn what they think are their strengths and weaknesses.
- Be a coach who is always positive, teaching and learning.
- The health of the players is always more important than any out, inning, game or tournament. If a pitcher is experiencing an arm problem or any other physical issue, remove him from the game immediately. It only takes one pitch to damage an arm forever.
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