Baseball pitchers are not made with a cookie cutter.
Some are tall right-handers with an overhand delivery and high velocity.
Others are short lefty side-armers who rely on movement to disrupt the timing of hitters.
All are tasked with getting outs.
As pitching coach for the low Class-A South Bend Cubs, Brian Lawrence is tasked with teaching young hurlers the art of retiring professional hitters and getting them ready for the next rung on the Chicago Cubs developmental ladder.
“We keep them all mechanically sound,” Lawrence said. “Some guys throw harder than others, but you’re going to be OK as long as you are under control and go after hitters.”
“Ultimately, going after the hitters from pitch 1,” Lawrence said. “If you win even counts (1-1 and 2-2), you are going to be successful. Stats prove that.”
All this while watching out for the players’ health — innings and pitch counts are monitored at all levels, but especially in A ball. Most pitchers in South Bend are in their first full season in pro baseball and likely to throw the most innings they’ve ever thrown in their young lives.
“Innings will add up at the end, so we try to protect them early so we don’t have to shut them down because of pitch limits,” Lawrence said. “It’s a process we go through the lower stages of the minor leagues.”
Per guidelines provided by the Chicago Cubs, South Bend uses a six-man starting rotation. It is made up of right-handers Jake Stinnett, Jeremy Null, Erick Leal, Zach Hedges, Trevor Clifton and Ryan Williams. At this stage of the season, no starter is allowed to surpass five innings, or about 75 pitches.
Relievers are not permitted to be used on back-to-back days.
Lawrence said if a pitcher is getting close to 25 or 30 pitches in an inning, it’s likely he will be lifted.
“It’s about who’s fresh and who hasn’t pitched,” Lawrence said. “Every kid has an innings limit and some have pitch limits based on experience. Some are coming out of college. Others are coming out of high school. It all comes down to their health first.”
Lawrence said he was never nervous as a player, but he does get on edge as a fourth-year coach.
“I really don’t have any control,” Lawrence said. “Watching it unravel out there for them, it’s really nervous for me.
“When I played, the ball was in my hand and I had full control. I was never that nervous. I had faith in my talent.”
What makes his job gratifying is being able to teach young men to discover what they do well to conduct themselves as professionals.
“I try to get them to be their best on the field and it’s not always on-the-field stuff,” Lawrence said. “How do they act in the clubhouse? How do they treat their bodies with nutrition and nightlife?
“I’ll give them the push they need. But it’s up to them to do it. I don’t coddle them, believe me. I just tell them what it takes. Sometimes I have to tell them they’re never going to make it if they don’t change.”
After a 2-1 homestand to open the Midwest League season, the Cubs (3-1) won 8-3 Sunday, April 12, in Dayton. The club was scheduled to play two more in Dayton on Monday and Tuesday, April 13-14, followed by three in Fort Wayne, April 15-17, before coming back to South Bend for a six-game homestand Saturday through Thursday, April 18-23 with three each against Great Lakes and Lake County.