Proper care important to preventing injury, keeping pitchers on the mound
A big part of being a successful pitcher has as much to do with taking care of the arm as what a pitcher throws.
Colorado Mesa University pitchers Trent Allianic and Tyler Ehlers learned the hard way.
Both players shredded the ulnar collateral ligament in their right elbows and were out 18 months for Tommy John surgery and rehabilitation.
Allianic’s occurred in a game with Olhone Junior College (California).
“I threw a fastball and it sailed to the backstop,” Allianic said. “I felt a sharp pain all the way down my arm to my fingers. It was probably the most excruciating pain I’ve felt. It was burning the whole time.
“I knew from the start (it was the UCL). I heard it pop.”
Allianic said he wasn’t paying attention to his body.
“I had a 140-pitch game the week before,” Allianic said. “My form was tight. I thought I’d loosen up (the arm). The game started and in one pitch, my season was done.”
Allianic had some Division I interest from the University of San Diego, UC-Irvine and Washington, but they backed off after the injury, Allianic said. He’s pitched mostly out of the bullpen for the Mavericks, but did start one game.
Ehlers was returning from knee surgery when he tore his UCL.
“My big mistake was when I was dealing with my knee injury, I didn’t think about my arm,” Ehlers said. “I never had any arm problems my whole life. I was rehabbing my knee constantly. I got back and my arm felt fine.
“I progressed real fast, then it happened. Honestly, I believe my elbow was too weak to handle that quick of a recovering. My knee was all I was worried about. I didn’t think my arm would go too.”
Pitchers also injure their shoulders, but elbows seem to be more common.
There are several different circumstances that lead to arm injuries, CMU coach Chris Hanks said.
“I think sliders and change-ups can be harder on an arm than a curveball,” Hanks said. “It all depends on how a kid throws and how well he takes care of his arm. Sometimes it’s a freak deal. Guys have different levels of flexibility. Sometimes it’s perfect conditions, temperature or a kid’s not warmed up enough.”
The number one key is getting the arm loose before a pitcher throws pitches.
“They throw to get loose rather than get loose to throw,” Hanks said. “You should attempt to get loose before you ever throw. For example, we have our pitchers do a little running, rubber band, surgical tubing, arm circles with weights. We still catch our guys breaking the rules, so to speak. It’s easy to pick up a ball and start throwing.”
Ehlers has a different approach with arm care being a bullpen guy opposed to a starter.
Ehlers will usually do some quick sprints to build up his cardio, then stretch his arm and keep it moving.
“Mostly, I try to keep my arm moving as much as I can,” Ehlers said. “The day after I throw, I’ll throw a light bullpen just to keep everything moving. Running is also a huge part for pitchers. High intensity sprints is big. You want to even it up with how you pitch.”
Allianic has learned to listen to how his body feels instead of pitching through soreness and pain.
For example, he threw 80 pitches in a mid-week non-conference game in March, then the next day he received an electric stimulation of his arm muscles. He jogged long enough to break a sweat, then stretched out his forearms and shoulder with the bands. He finished with 90-foot light tossing.
“You don’t want to take any stretches off,” Allianic said. “You can’t long-toss every day, but long-toss is good for you. It strengthens your arm. You have to listen to how your arm feels.”