PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Sports

May 1, 2013

Nederland baseball has a tradition of pitching

NEDERLAND — Open the book on Nederland’s baseball history and the pitching section will be filled to the brim. Names like Dustin Hood, Brad Sullivan and Justin Walker leap out from those pages for their contributions to the Bulldogs.

Nederland right-hander Mitchell Sanderson, who wrote his own page in that book with a gritty 9-inning performance in the second installment of Mid-Count Madness, knows all about that legacy.

“Being around a lot of great guys my whole life has helped,” Sanderson said. “Brian Sanches lived down the street from me, my dad coached guys like Dustin Hood and Jesse Ford in Babe Ruth. It’s weird being in the same position as them. My mom was joking around the other day. She told me, ‘It’s nice to be the parent of Brad Sullivan.’ I told her, ‘Don’t say that.’

“After my game against PN-G, Dustin texted me and told me what a good job I did. That was really cool hearing it from him, after I grew up watching him.”

Sanderson may not want to be Sullivan, but he is part of a pitching pipeline that head coach Cody Robbins has been developing since taking over the program in 2005.. Every year, it seems Robbins is able to field an above-average pitching staff.

This year’s staff will be tested in the playoffs starting at 7 p.m. Thursday, as Nederland travels to Dayton for Game 1 of a three-game Class 4A bidistrict playoff series. Game 2 is set for 7 p.m. Friday at Nederland while Game 3 will be at 1 p.m. Saturday in Nederland, if necessary.

Is it the coaching at Nederland, the talented youth league programs around the school or just good luck that has produced so much pitching talent?

“We’ve just been fortunate here,” Robbins said. “Since I’ve been head coach, I can name a lot of guys. It just seems like we have someone step up every year. Guys mature and become really good pitchers by the time they become seniors in high school.”

If the Bulldogs had one good pitcher in three straight years, that might be a coincidence But, with the track record of names Robbins is piling up, there’s something more at work.

Let’s start with the basics. As a former college pitcher, Robbins knows what he can and cannot do. He cannot overhaul a pitcher’s mechanics in high school. He does not try to make every one of his guys conform to one style of pitching. Each guy brings his own unique background to high school and Robbins then molds them from there.

The pipeline of pitchers coming into his program has also been a big factor  to that success.

“I wouldn’t say that we’ve made great pitchers here,” Robbins said. “We’ve had guys come through here with ability that have learned how to pitch. Someone down the line has taught them to pick up a baseball and the proper mechanics of throwing it. We’ve been fortunate to have kids come through with a lot of talent here.”

From there, Robbins doesn’t have to do much.

He tweaks. He amends. He polishes.

“By the time they get to high school, they’ve got their own pitching style, ” Robbins said. “We don’t try to change that. All you try to do is teach them one little thing to tweak their mechanics. We’re not going to try and change arm slots with kids who have good, live arms. I was never coached like that.”

Robbins, an All-American at Louisiana-Lafayette in 1997, learned much of what he imparts to his pitchers while in college. Some of those lessons have nothing at all to do with throwing a baseball, as he learned the importance of the conditioning part of pitching.

“I remember making a comment to my college coach that I wasn’t sure what I was there for,” Robbins said. “Was I there to pitch or to run cross-country? Some people may not realize the conditioning that goes into pitching. I realized that the more your body is in shape, the less stress is on your arm and the more longevity you can have.”

Sanderson can attest personally to how effective that conditioning has been. After feeling the effects of pitching just a few innings earlier in the season, Sanderson could gamely throw another 65 pitches six days after going nine against PN-G.

“At the start of the season, I was throwing five innings and my legs would be killing me the next day,” Sanderson said. “Now, I can run three miles after I pitch. After I threw nine innings, six days later, I threw 65 with nine strikeouts through three innings. I just felt great. Conditioning has definitely helped me a lot.”

Sanderson’s rotation mate, senior right-hander Carson Raines, is a good example of the magic that those little tweaks of Robbins can work on a pitcher.

The senior did not pitch last year. He does not throw hard, but he is effective enough to regularly top double-digit strikeouts in his starts.

That effectiveness earned Raines a scholarship to Angelina Junior College as a pitcher. It also speaks to the Nederland staff’s effectiveness at nurturing pitchers while also playing to their strengths.

Raines does not throw hard, topping out in the upper 80’s. However, he uses a combination of movement and command to vaguely evoke a future Hall of Famer.

“Something else that goes along with pitching is velocity,” Robbins said. “Guys get caught up in velocity, but can he throw it consistently for strikes and what does he have for offspeed stuff. Can he locate his fastball? A guy who throws mid-80’s with movement is as effective as a guy who throws 90 but flat.

“A prime example of that is Carson Raines. He throws 85-87, but he’s got great movement. He reminds me of a Greg Maddux. Maddux touched 90, but he lived in the mid-80’s and had great movement and great control.”

The biggest thing Robbins tries to impart to his pitchers isn’t anything physical. It’s by helping his pitchers develop a mound presence to succeed. That’s part of what has helped reliever Jared Ramoin , perform well this season.

In an extra-inning game against Little Cypress-Mauriceville earlier this season, Ramoin dominated with strikeout after strikeout to end innings and was demonstrably excited after each one.

He developed a confidence in himself to succeed, no matter the situation. The same can be said of this entire Nederland roster, which makes the Bulldogs such a threat once the playoffs get rolling.

“I think a large part of pitching is a mental game,” Robbins said. “We talk to them about demeanor. We’ve got guys that have learned how to carry themselves on the mound. I’ve seen that in a lot of our pitchers. The transformation on the mound is huge.”

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