Coaches, young pitchers combat overuse arm injuries

  • Article by: JASON GONZALEZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 28, 2014 - 9:41 PM

Medical professionals believe overthrowing during a player’s formative years will have significant repercussions down the road.

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East Ridge pitcher Cal Kellner used a rubber band device to warm up before a recent start. He missed his freshman year because of a partly torn elbow ligament.

Photo: MARLIN LEVISON • mlevison@startribune.com,

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Doctors’ notes filtering into East Ridge High School are doing more than excusing absences.

Players in the baseball program have been plagued by arm injuries over the past two seasons and forced coach Brian Sprout to shelve several pitchers showing up for the first week of practice with a note instead of a glove.

Early spring injuries no longer surprise high school coaches around the state. With the rise of club teams and showcases, year-round baseball has become the standard and arms don’t have time to rest. Medical professionals believe overthrowing during a player’s formative years will have significant repercussions down the road.

Sprout said Mayo Clinic and other doctors have advised that young players need “at least three months off, and that’s not happening in some cases. We had a ninth-grader whose arm was just throbbing in pain after our week of tryouts and had to be shut down. He’s hurting because he can’t stop throwing.”

Pitchers Cal Kellner, Parker Moquist and Ben Zocher are some of the East Ridge players who have missed at least part of a season because of sore elbows.

Zocher’s doctor’s note kept him out until last Wednesday’s 12-11 victory over Park of Cottage Grove. Before a sore arm delayed his start to the high school season, the sophomore was expected to be a varsity pitcher.

Kellner, a sophomore who threw nearly 100 pitches in last Wednesday’s start on a rainy and chilly afternoon, missed his freshman season after a doctor’s note diagnosed him with a partly torn elbow ligament.

Moquist lost the ability to pitch when he fractured his elbow while throwing during last spring’s tryouts.

“Take those three to four months off,” said Kellner, offering advice based on his experience. “I didn’t take enough time off and I hurt my arm. It’ll make all the difference.”

Each athlete started playing travel/club baseball before he was a teenager.

“I was told I would never pitch again,” Moquist said. “I pitched third grade through 10th grade any time I was available, and then after I’d go play shortstop. Now my arm is done.”

Guarding against overuse

Several Major League Baseball figures are speaking out against youth overthrowing in response to eight big leaguers requiring season-ending Tommy John surgery in the past month.

Even John — the lefthanded pitcher for whom the procedure to reconstruct the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow was named — believes these injuries are the result of throwing too much as youngsters.

“In essence, the injury itself is a buildup of overuse. And not overuse as an adult, but overuse as a kid,” John told the Watertown Daily Times (N.Y.) last week. “And nowadays, probably 70 to 80 percent of the pitchers today have been pitching 12 months a year since they were 7, 8 or 9 years old. And your arm is not made for that.”

Any mention of Tommy John surgery scares East Ridge ace Drew Molin, who has committed to play baseball at the University of St. Thomas. After his starts, Molin’s future coaches inquire about the outcome and number of pitches he threw.

“Growing up I had a rubber arm. I could throw 300 pitches a week and I’d be fine,” Molin said. “Starting last year, my arm started to hurt regularly, so I had to start taking care of it. … My doctor said to take it easy because I had been throwing so much, there was inflammation.”

Pitch counts are paramount to trying to keep a pitcher injury-free. Several studies have broken down the number of pitches an individual should throw per game and per week based on age, the appropriate age to throw breaking pitches, the significance of proper mechanics and the need for regular communication about any arm soreness between player and coach.

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