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Aaron Fultz teaching new philosophies to staff
July 14, 2012 - Mitch Rupert
By MITCH RUPERT
The philosophies Aaron Fultz is trying to impart on his Williamsport Crosscutters pitching staff are so simple. At least he thinks so.
In teaching these philosophies, though, Fultz is re-teaching many of the pitchers on his staff how to pitch. But it’s not from a mechanical standpoint, it’s all about the philosophy of pitching – throwing strike one, and working off your fastball.
Fultz, Williamsport’s first-year pitching coach, sees progress in trying to ingrain this new philosophy of baseball at a professional level. But it’s clear the majority of the staff isn’t there quite yet.
“It’s a learning process. To me it sounds simple. And it really is,” Fultz said after batting practice Saturday at Bowman Field. “But when you get out there competing, you forget about some things that you’re trying to get to, and you just try to go to what you were.”
Eight of the 15 active pitchers on the Crosscutters’ roster last pitched for a college team before signing with the Phillies this year. Fultz said pitchers coming from college to the pros are often taught to pitch backwards – using breaking balls and off-speed pitches to set up the fastball as an out pitch.
It’s the direct opposite of a Phillies philosophy that wants pitchers to get ahead with fastballs and pitch to contact. It’s been a big part of the reason the Cutters’ pitching staff has struggled so much this year, and it’s a big part of the reason the Cutters have the second-worst team ERA in the New York-Penn League.
Both Fultz and Andy Tracy have pointed to the positive results being experienced by both Josh Warner, Saturday’s starting pitcher, and Jordan Guth. Both those pitchers have relied solely on the idea of making everything work off their fastball, and the two have experienced the most consistent positive results of the staff.
Warner entered last night’s start with a 2-0 record and a team-best 2.10 ERA. Guth is 1-1 with a 3.27 ERA who has yet to allow a walk this year.
“That would be the common sense thing to do,” Fultz said of the rest of the staff watching and emulating Warner’s and Guth’s approach. “Jordan has done it all season and Josh has been phenomenal all year. But if you look at their stuff, their stuff is probably not as good as some of the others, yet they’re having more success. There’s a reason for that.”
The approach of working off off-speed pitches and breaking balls is a risky one. And what it has led to for the Cutters this year are pitchers falling behind in counts and getting in fastball-throwing counts against a college-player driven league that feasts on fastball.
Fultz pointed directly to the results experienced by Ramon Oviedo and Nic Hanson during Friday night’s loss to Tri-City as a result. Oviedo threw just five first-pitch fastballs to the 21 batters he faced. Consequently, he lasted just four innings throwing 83 pitches. Oviedo allowed five runs and six hits.
Conversely, Hanson, who threw four very good innings, threw a first-pitch strike to 15 of the 19 batters he faced. Hanson allowed just one run and five hits.
“It’s all they’ve ever known (to pitch backwards),” Fultz said of the college draftees. “Plus the coaches call the pitches (in college). Now they’re able to call their own pitches and it’s an adjustment. It’s a growing period. It’s different than what they’re used to doing.”
Fultz is understanding that it’s going to take time to break the habit of pitching backwards for many of the pitchers, and he’s OK with that. It’s part of the development of new pros playing in the New-York Penn League.
What has been a disappointment for Fultz, who pitched in eight Major League seasons with five teams, have been the walks given up by his staff. The Cutters have allowed the third-most walks in the New York-Penn League this season (107). Only Aberdeen (131) and Lowell (109) have allowed more.
It’s those walks that have often led to the big innings surrendered by the Williamsport pitching staff. Fultz can live with it if one of his pitchers gives up a number of hits leading to a run or two. But the walks only complicate the problems the staff is already facing.
“If you watch baseball, there’s not a whole lot of times that you give up two, three or four hits in an inning,” Fultz said. “But when you mix in two walks with that, then that’s four runs.”
There is a silver lining in the struggles of this pitching staff. Fultz said he sees real talent on the Cutters’ pitching staff. And with a little bit of consistency in approach, there’s no reason they can’t turn the season around with still nearly two-thirds of the season to play.
“A lot of these guys have a lot better stuff than I did,” Fultz said. “They’re just younger. I know it’s possible for them to pitch well at this level, it’s just a matter of doing it and repeating it.”
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