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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Nolan Ryan stresses conditioning over pitch counts

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The experiment may also have a major impact on the use of the dreaded pitch count which has been in vogue for perhaps too long in MLB

Ryan has banished the use of the pitch count in determining how long a pitcher stays in the game through out the organization.

Of course, every pitching coach will know that count, but that is no longer the criteria for when to pull a pitcher. We are primarily talking starters here, a role Ryan filled to HOF standards, going deep into games.

If a pitch count had been around when Ryan pitched, he would have been out in the third or fourth inning of most games with all the strikeouts and walks.

As part of the effort, Ryan has also established a year round fitness program for pitchers. He told the Dallas Morning News the idea is to "establish our foundation" for starters.

Speaking from his own experience, Ryan said he "had to develop stamina because my intent was to pitch a lot of innings." That message is being sent loud and clear to the Texas starters.

Mike Maddux, the pitching coach for the Rangers, says you don't need a pitch count to know when your day is done. "The hitters will let you know that," he said.

"The ceiling is off," said Maddux. "This is a mental thing we have to overcome. We have to change the attitude of the starters to want to go deep and believe they can."

The Rangers instituted the process of eliminating the pitch count and building stamina in spring training said Maddux. "We had the pitchers throwing live batting practice besides their regular work."

"We want guys who want the ball deep in the game," said Maddux. He believes that the results of this experiment will be seen as early as June.

Andy MacPhail, the president of baseball operations for the Orioles finds the Texas effort "a good idea." He smiled and said, "We will let them (Texas) go first, but the other 29 clubs are going to be monitoring the results."

"Having Nolan Ryan and his reputation behind the effort lends tremendous credibility to the concept," said MacPhail.

MacPhail cited a number of changes in the game that brought the pitch count to the fore.

"Pitchers are on for the short term now," he said. "We play the game in high energy, short bursts. It's a give it all you've got for as long as you can and then you come out."

"Specialization also drove the pitch count," said MacPhail. With middle relievers, long men, set up pitchers and closers all part of a team's structure, the need to use them in their roles suggested a pitch count on the starter, then turn the game over to the pen.

MacPhail thinks it will take years to know if the experiment works. "We need to see if the pitchers under the Texas system remain durable and how many more innings they pitch over an extended time. That's how we will gauge the results."

Maddux noted that the system is in place with the Rangers big league staff now. Starters understand that not only does their pitching coach and manager expect efforts deep in to the game, but the president of the club wants the same.

Ryan summed up for the Dallas Morning News at the start of the season what he wants to see from starters: "The dedication and work ethic that it takes to pitch an entire season as a starting pitcher and the discipline to continue to maintain his routine all year. And he wants the ball every fifth day, and he's going to go out there with the intent of pitching late into games and not complaining."

The rest of baseball is intently watching.

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