Most of the Pac-12 Conference-bound pitchers in the 4A West Central District baseball tournament will pitch only one of the potential three games this week.
So do you pitch the ace in the district opener? Or save him for what should be a tougher opponent in the next round?
“It’s really important that you make sure not to get too far ahead of yourself and understand that you have to win the game that is in front of you,” said South Kitsap coach Marcus Logue, who added he will start Washington State University commit and submarine thrower Mac McCarty on Tuesday against Tahoma.
“But you have to know the matchups and the types of hitters you are going to be playing.”
It’s what makes baseball different from any other sport. You won’t see football teams play an NCAA Division I quarterback one game, then rest him the next two.
McCarty, Gig Harbor left-hander Matthew Henckel (a University of Oregon commit) or Kentwood right-hander Jordan Jones (committed to Washington) aren’t likely to throw a single pitch if their teams make it to Saturday. The only one who might is Yelm’s 97-mph-fastball-weilding Parker McFadden (WSU commit) but only because he pulled his hamstring running the 40-yard dash in his PE class last week and won’t be ready to pitch Tuesday.
But that setup will likely ring true if their teams happen to make the state championship, too.
Kentwood coach Mark Zender said the toughest postseason games are the district opener, first game of regionals and the state semifinals. And because of that, he wants his ace on the mound for those games.
“You can’t save your guy for a state championship you aren’t playing in,” Zender said. “If you toy with that, you are foolish.”
It’s worked both ways for Puyallup coach Marc Wiese. He said he looked ahead in 2006 and lost to South Kitsap, 21-2. He was hoping to save his ace for a tough state quarterfinal matchup against Jackson.
But then there was Gonzaga Prep last year, which saved its top pitcher, Justin Blatner (now at Gonzaga University) in the regional round. The Bullpups beat Battle Ground, then were able to use him the following game against Puyallup, which had saved Luke Heimlich (now at Oregon State).
Puyallup won, but then threw Heimlich in the state semifinals and Lane Griffin for the state championship.
“You got to be deeper than your No. 1,” Wiese said. “You need at least two guys.”
For teams in the district loser-out games, such as Gig Harbor, Tides coach Pete Jansen said they have to be three deep.
He’ll throw Henckel on Tuesday against Curtis, and if the Tides win, then they’ll play again Wednesday, while the winner-to-state teams wait until Saturday to play again. So Gig Harbor will then turn to Michael Toglia on Wednesday and use Colton Robinson on Saturday if they get there.
“Henckel could be available Saturday, but we won’t use him,” Jansen said. “We have three outstanding pitchers. We are lucky to be really deep in pitching.”
Zender said it sends a mixed message to your team if you rely too much on your ace, planning his starts based on what coaches see is a game they couldn’t win without him.
“I want to win a state championship like anybody, but for us to use Jordan Saturday (after he pitches Tuesday) would depend on if that would be harmful to Jordan’s arm and health,” Zender said. “If he’s good and it’s not going to hurt his arm, I would leave that decision to him. He wants to win, he’s a big part of our team and he’s a team player. He’s going to do what’s right for the team.
“But if we lose Tuesday, we would have to win two more games. If we have to compromise our No. 1 pitcher to win those two, then we aren’t good enough anyway.”