Dylan Fosnacht, a senior at Rochester (Wash.) High School, says "people need to chill" about him throwing 194 pitches in a 14-inning effort on Tuesday.
Even you, left-hander and Cy Young winner David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays:
— David Price (@DAVIDprice14) May 15, 2014
You know you've made it big when major leaguers check in via Twitter to give an opinion about a small-town high school pitcher who stands about 5-foot-7 and weighs perhaps 135 pounds. But it's not surprising, given the growing concern over the boom in Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgeries — from the majors on down to high school.
Rochester coach Jerry Striegel, who has taught for 35 years and coached about as long, does not need to hear comments like Price's to feel regret about allowing Fosnacht to pitch that much.
"I realize that it was way too many pitches," Striegel told Big League Stew in a phone interview Thursday morning. "I can understand everybody's concern about it. And I would tell you too that I am concerned also. I probably would change the decision today."
Striegel's Rochester Warriors beat LaCenter 1-0 in 17 innings, with Fosnacht being replaced in the 15th after he had allowed two batters to reach. It was at that point, because he saw his pitcher starting to labor, that Striegel pulled him. Up to then, Fosnacht's velocity and command did not waver much, Striegel said.
"I can't say that I have been a watcher of pitch counts," Striegel said. "I'm more a watcher of the kid himself. I've tried to develop a feeling of what a kid can and can't do. I was not personally keeping track of pitch counts. I was concerned about it, but I was more concerned with how he was throwing."
Baseball researcher Bill James has written that it's not the pitch count itself that should be concerning, but fatigue. How many pitches does one throw when tired? That's when the risk of injury is highest. Regardless, Fosnacht's number bothers Striegel after the fact.
"When you think about that number, 194, that is a huge amount of pitches," Striegel said.
At least 34 professional ballplayers (not just pitchers) have undergone Tommy John surgery since Feb. 18, and the surgery has been trending in recent years, even among kids. Most experts don't agree on why elbow injuries have risen exponentially but some, like surgeon Dr. James Andrews, strongly suspect that young kids are throwing too often, and too hard, and that's where the damage begins.
Striegel says Fosnacht throws 80-85 mph, which is near but not necessarily over the "Tommy John" danger threshold for putting too much stress on the elbow's ulnar collateral ligament. Striegel said Fosnacht came in having logged roughly 25 innings on the season so far as the team's No. 2 starter. He pitches about once a week.
Fosnacht, like a lot of competitors, wanted to keep pitching against LaCenter. And has no regrets at all.
People might criticize me throwing 14 innings, but I'm going to do whatever it takes to win
— Dylan Fosnacht (@DFosnacht5) May 14, 2014
Fosnacht has said that his arm feels fine. He also pointed out a few differences between himself and other high school pitchers:
• He's not the team's ace (as in the one who pitches the most innings) and he's not hoping to pitch in college or the pros. He's not on a path like the one David Price was at his age.
• If he happens to blow out his elbow in a few years because of accumulated stress on the ligament, so be it. It was worth it, he says.
Of course, that's where a coach needs to step in, Striegel says. He remembers when he was a pitcher Fosnacht's age. He would do anything to win, too. Even if it meant risking an injury.
"The biggest issue I have right now is," Striegel said, pausing a moment. "I know that the mentality of a pitcher is, 'Give me the ball and I'll get it done.' I think that's where I sat most of the day. Hindsight being what it is, I know that I should not have gone that long with him. I should have stepped in as a coach and said, 'It's time.' And I did not do that."
Striegel says he's never had a player, to his knowledge, require arm surgery. He certainly doesn't want Fosnacht to be the first.
"He'll be handled pretty gingerly today," Striegel said. "We'll see how he throws Friday [in a side session]."
The district championships are Saturday. Striegel guesses that Fosnacht won't start that game, but suggested he might pitch if he feels up to it.
@DAVIDprice14 just trying to get a much needed win for my team and wouldn't want no other coach then the one I have
— Dylan Fosnacht (@DFosnacht5) May 15, 2014
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