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West Essex head baseball coach Scott Illiano is strongly considering implementing the ideas of retired Atlanta Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone with the plethora of arm injuries affecting so many hurlers. (Photo by Bill Allen- www.

Knights Senior American Legion coach Steve Trongone limits the use of curve balls by freshman pitchers on the West Essex High School team. (Photo by Todd Mundt)

Leo Mazzone (left) was Bobby Cox's right-hand man and terrific pitching coach with Atlanta Braves through 2005 season. (photo courtesy of

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“Long toss should not be foul line to foul line and should be customized per the individual.

“Before exhibition games in Spring Training, his pitchers threw five minuts on the side and five minutes of BP (batting practice) for two days straight. On the third day, he took a poll. The ones who wanted to throw threw another five on the side and five BP; the ones who didn’t want to threw five minutes on the side only and then threw 10 minutes of BP the following day.

“He felt his job and biggest contribution as pitching coach during that amazing string of success in Atlanta was to regulate the effort in between starts. That, in his mind, is the coach’s job as the players even at that level won’t do it themselves.”

In the West Essex under levels, where Trongone – a former standout pitcher at both Roxbury and Montclair State University – has been the freshman coach for many years, breaking balls are thrown at a minimum.

“With my freshmen there are no curves thrown in April,” said the longtime Wessex assistant coach. “They can throw fast balls and change-ups and maybe curves in May, but kids at that age have to watch what they throw, and I saw what happened to my friend Karl Nonemaker, who was a tremendous Little League pitcher but threw way too many curve balls and paid a severe price with rotator cuff problems.

“Fortunately, for him, he was also a terrific hitter and had a great playing career (he now is an assistant coach at Old Dominion University) in both high school and college, but a lot of kids may not have such luck when it comes to being able to continue with the game if they blow out their arms.”

Meanwhile, at the Major League level, elbow injuries are rampant along with other arm ailments. Illiano is strong considering a different path after reflecting on his talk last winter with Mazzone.

“The arm injury phenomenon seems to reaching its peak, and we can debate the reasons all day long – such as kids throwing year round, throwing too many pitches, throwing breaking pitches too early of an age, etc.

“To me, the reasons don’t matter because they’ll always be speculative. What really matters is the potential remedy. I’m taking a long look at implementing the Mazzone model moving forward.”

West Essex head baseball coach Scott Illiano (left) led his Knights to a Group 2 state title and GNT crown in 2010. (Photo by Glenn Kross- visit

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