Pitchers who can hit becoming a rarity

Nick Insognia of Niskayuna plays in the field or DHs when he's not pitching.
Nick Insognia of Niskayuna plays in the field or DHs when he's not pitching.

One day, Nick Insognia pitches for the Niskayuna baseball team and keeps his usual spot as the Silver Warriors’ cleanup hitter.

The next, he’ll probably DH. After that, back to his spot in center field for a game or two before he gets back on the mound again.

Somehow, that type of schedule makes him a rarity at the large-school level of Section II baseball.

“I mean, most of the pitchers I know,” Insognia said, “they just don’t really hit.”

For sure, there are a solid number of regular pitchers within the large-school baseball scene who still hit and play a position when they’re not on the mound. But the trend within Section II’s Class AA and Class A ranks continues to bend more toward developing pitchers who only pitch.

“And a lot of them now opt to be pitcher-only guys,” CBA head coach Casey O’Connor said.

“It’s just very difficult [to do more than just pitch] in the Suburban Council — especially to play a [premium defensive] position like shortstop and still pitch,” 
Shenendehowa head coach Greg Christodulu said, “Some of the best ones have either broken down physically or can’t maintain their arm strength for the course of the six-week season.” 

A year ago, Shenendehowa had a pitcher-only ace in Ian Anderson — now pitching in the Atlanta Braves’ organization — and a stable of secondary pitchers who also played a position in the field. That was a rarity, though, for the Plainsmen, who are back this season to primarily using pitcher-only arms — such as the right one of junior Brandon Roberts and the left one of senior John Cady — to eat up their innings.

Most large-school programs now have a throwing program in which their pitchers take part. Often, that pitching-based work leaves little time for a player to keep up with his repetitions elsewhere in the field or at the plate during the season.

“And you have to stay on a program like that or you won’t peak during the postseason,” Christodulu said.

Niskayuna, which will be one of the top seeds for the Section II Class AA tournament when that field is announced Tuesday, has been able to buck that trend with Insognia. 
A senior headed to pitch next season at Stony Brook, Insognia is carrying one of the heaviest workloads this season for a Section II large-school player. 

“It’s a tricky thing,” Niskayuna first-year head coach Chris Bianchi said. “It’s really about a trust issue. He trusts we’re going to take care of his arm, not overtax him. . . . He’s got to know we’re going to take care of his arm.”

Insognia didn’t hit when he pitched last season, but he did DH on his non-pitching days. This past offseason, Bianchi approached Insognia about the possibility of hitting full-time as a senior. The player embraced that chance.

“Coach wanted me to do it, and I’m completely fine with that,” said Insognia, who added his future coaches at Stony Brook encouraged him on his senior-year playing situation even though he’ll only pitch for the Seawolves.

“They like that I’m doing both things right now,” Insognia said. 

Some concessions are made so Insognia can pull that off. His practices include taking some drills off and his between-starts throwing program considers he’s also getting in some throws as an outfielder.

“And it definitely is a lot easier to do this with an outfielder than it is a shortstop or a third baseman — an infielder,” Bianchi said.

Nearly all small-school programs still have their pitchers playing other positions, a necessity given their roster sizes. CBA’s O’Connor, though, said he doesn’t see players like Insognia — or his star pitcher Elliott Raimo, who also played outfield and hit as a senior last season — becoming more common at the large-school level anytime soon.

“The game’s changed,” O’Connor said. “You get these kids that are now playing for summer teams at 13, 14, 15 years old, and they’re only pitchers there. . . . Fifteen years ago, if you were a pitcher, you were usually a shortstop or a center fielder — and you pitched. Now these guys are pitchers. They’re groomed for it.”

Coaches have changed, too. O’Connor said he lets his hitting-capable-pitchers decide if they want to hit on days they pitch. Often, he said, they have opted not to do both. 
He’s fine with that, as are other coaches who are looking to keep their top arms healthy and strong. 

“That’s just how important pitching is,” Christodulu said.

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Michael Kelly at 395-3109, [email protected] or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter. 

Categories: -Sports-, High School Sports

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