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With increase in arm injuries for pitchers, including an epidemic of Tommy John (elbow) surgeries in current Major League season, one Essex County high school coach, Scott Illiano of West Essex, is taking closer look at implementing ideas of retired Atlanta Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone (right). (photo is courtesy of sportingnews.com)
With Pitchers' Arm Injuries Out Of Control
One Coach Looks To Leo Mazzone Model
By Steve Tober
The list of Tommy John elbow surgeries for Major League pitchers has reached a crescendo this season - perhaps even of epidemic proportions with 46 already by the recent mid-season- whether you’re talking burgeoning star Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins, superb left-hander Matt Moore of the Tampa Bay Rays, veteran Josh Johnson of the San Diego Padres or local hurlers such as the Yankees’ Ivan Nova and the Mets’ closer Bobby Parnell.
Many observers are pointing to overuse at young ages, leading to what is now to arm injuries in record numbers. Some coaches at the high school age level, such as Knights Senior American Legion head man Steve Trongone, point to the overuse of the breaking ball by young hurlers, noting that a friend such as former Roxbury teammate and ex-Vanderbilt star outfielder Karl Nonemaker, caused a serious rotator cuff problem by throwing two many curve balls as a young teenager.
Trongone’s diamond boss at West Essex, longtime head coach Scott Illiano, is seriously considering turning to implementing ideas of former Atlanta Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who is considered by many to be a veritable genius when it comes to grooming pitchers.
After all, he did more than a pretty good job with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz with Atlanta Braves teams that reached won 14 straight division titles, four National League pennants and one World Series during his run alongside longtime manager Bobby Cox.
“There is more emphasis today on innings restrictions and pitch counts, yet there more injuries than ever before,” said Illiano, who has guided West Essex to a pair of Greater Newark Tournament titles and a Group 2 state championship. “I had a chance to meet Leo Mazzone last winter and I’m taking a long look at some of the things he shared with me.
“He thinks that (the Washington Nationals) shutting down Steve Strasburg (two seasons ago) was the most ridiculous thing that he’s ever heard of. He also doesn’t believe in pitch counts. When do you take a pitcher out in his mind?...When he’s tired (ie. Flattens out, ball up in zone, etc.)
“The remedy, according to him, is to first understand that arm injures occur from over exertion. He believes pitches should throw more often with less exertion rather than less in-between starts.
“The analogy is that it is better to run one mile a day for seven days as opposed to running seven miles once a week and then recover.
“For example, a pitcher pitches long (5-7 innings on Monday), plays catch on Tuesday, has bullpen at 70 % max on Wednesday and Thursday, plays catch on Friday, and pitches again on Saturday.