June 6, 2010 12:18:00 AM
The number of injuries to pitchers might not have happened like Brandon Johnson thought, but that doesn''t mean plenty of lessons weren''t learned in the 2010 high school baseball season.
Johnson, a certified athletic trainer at Rehab at Work, a physical therapy clinic in Columbus, said at the beginning of the season that he saw a "potential for an increase in arm trouble" after the Mississippi High School Activities Association cut the amount of preparation time teams had before the start of the season.
Typically, baseball teams have had more than a month of official practice time to prepare for a season. But this season MHSAA teams had a little more than two weeks before they could play their first games of the season.
Johnson said he saw plenty of pitchers with fatigued arms at the seven schools -- Caledonia, Columbus, Hamilton, Heritage Academy, New Hope, Noxubee County, West Lowndes -- he works with in the Greater Golden Triangle area. But he said there were only two injuries that cost pitchers significant time on the mound.
"I saw a couple of unusual injuries, like the elbow, that you don''t ever see in a pitcher," Johnson said. "It ended up with one kid having surgery. I don''t know if that was related to that or not. It could have been a pre-existing injury. I had one that a little arm fatigue. It was at a school that had seventh-period athletics and that you could pitch. He did have a little injury that once the season started and he was able to rehab and build up he did better. But stuff you would normally see early on in the season that you could shut them down and take care of it, it lingered a little longer. I didn''t see the significant injuries I thought I would see. I pretty much guaranteed it would come. The typical sore arms that normally were gone the first of February lingered."
Hamilton High, which is in Monroe County, doesn''t have a seventh period for athletics.
Johnson said the coaches he worked with limited pitches and innings and gave more pitchers chance to take the mound. He said the pitchers did a lot more stretching, running, and pre and post-pitch exercises, whether they threw in games or at practices. He said the maintenance levels increased in an attempt to prevent injuries.
Johnson hopes to use this season as a learning tool to help coaches and pitchers learn the importance of stretching and throwing well before the start of the season. He said it typically takes one to two months for a healthy pitcher to go through a pitching program, which is made up throwing from set distances multiple times in a week.
Johnson said even though the number of injuries might not have happened this season due to the shortened amount of time before the start of the season it could have set the stage for an injury to happen at another time. That''s why he said stretching and throwing well before the season are crucial to a pitcher''s conditioning.
"We tried to stress it more this year," Johnson said. "Maybe in the past (the coaches) might not have pushed that players need to get their running in, but this year they really said you have to do your running. I had a lot more coaches asking me about what do we need to do and how do we need to do it. You could hear a lot more chatter in the dugout about, ''How many pitches has he thrown?'' You saw a lot more awareness in the situation."
Johnson said it is imperative for coaches to make sure pitchers apply ice to their shoulders after they throw and to give players four to five days between appearances. He said it is also key to have pitchers throw in the bullpen in between outings to keep their arms strong.
Johnson said the two pitchers who suffered injuries started pitching at the beginning of the season but were forced to go slower than usual after the injuries were discovered. He said the pitchers worked through a throwing program longer so they were in position to help their teams at the end of the season.
Johnson said he will continue to monitor the number and the types of injuries so he will be able to continue to adjust the methods he uses to prepare baseball players for a new season.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.