May 22, 2013

Direct Kick: Baseball coaches make tough decisions

By Denis House
Sports Editor

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Imagine if you will you’re the coach. It could be of a football team, or maybe a basketball team. Either way, your team has made the playoffs and you prepare for the first game.

Now imagine that you won that game, but in the next game, you can’t use your star quarterback at that position or your leading scorer can’t take any shots. Seems like that would be pretty unfair, right?

Well, that’s what baseball coaches have to deal with all the time when it comes to pitching, especially during the post season. You want to make sure you win that first game of the district tournament, because if you don’t, your season comes to a screeching halt. You can’t advance to the region unless you win that first game in the district.

So, unless you are fortunate enough to have a stacked pitching staff, you have to make sure you use the right pitcher to get you that win. Thing is, if you win, and your pitcher went deep in the game, he’s done for the next game. If you face a weaker team, then you could possibly save your stud pitchers, but you never know. Every team seems to have one good pitcher, and you know they are going to throw him in that first district game.

It gets more complicated once you get to the region. You need to win that first game. So do you throw your ace, or save him for the semifinals? Either way, if you win both games, he probably won’t be available for the championship game, and if he is, it would probably be only for an inning or two.

Unless a quarterback or your leading scorer in basketball gets injured, you know you can use them the next game. Even in softball you can use the same pitcher in every game in a tournament. Many teams do just that.

That’s why baseball coaches have a tough decision on which pitcher to use and in what situation. And this just isn’t in high school. It goes all the way up to the major leagues. Not every team can be as fortunate as the 1971 Baltimore Orioles were with four 20-game winners, or any of the Atlanta Braves teams that featured Greg Maddox, Tom Glavine and Tom Smoltz. Unless you have a stellar pitching staff like those teams, you have some tough decisions ahead of you.

I was at the North Laurel-Harlan County baseball game last week and saw something that I don’t think I have ever seen in high school baseball. There was a play at home where the Harlan County runner was safe. North catcher Ethan Maxey then fired the ball to third in an attempt to get another runner. That ball sailed past the third baseman, and Marcus Carson was there to back up the play.

Now that might not sound like such a big deal, but you have to remember that Carson plays centerfield. He raced all the way from his centerfield position to back up the play. And apparently that’s not the first time he’s done something like that. Coach Darren McWhorter said in the game earlier this season at Harlan County, he made a double play by tagging out two runners after coming in from his centerfield position.

When I told Marcus that I had never seen a centerfielder back up a play at third, you know what he said? “Well, I was out there, so why not.”

You gotta love that kind of attitude.