Parents urged to limit the number of pitches
Former major league pitcher Clayton Andrews is no stranger to the scalpel. “I’ve had four surgeries. Two on my elbow, two on my shoulder. That definitely ended my playing career,” said Andrews, now a pitching coach at The Hitting Academy in Tampa.
Andrews helps young athletes focus on their speed, power and form, but growing research shows the number of pitches little league and high school students throw may determine how likely it is they’ll succumb to a tear in the Tommy John elbow ligament, a painful injury that has plagued the Tampa Bay Rays and every other major and minor league team.
Dr. Koco Eaton, designated orthopedic surgeon for the Tampa Bay Rays believes there’s a finite number of pitches people have in their arm because the pitching motion is so unnatural. Eaton says the injuries common in the major leagues are showing up more often in kids.
“They’re having their second and third Tommy John surgery and they’re younger,” Eaton said.
Clayton Andrews’ joints starting failing after he went pro, but wonders if better youth coaching might have prevented injuries later.
“Maybe there were things in my mechanics and throwing motion that I didn’t do quite as well as I should have,” Andrews said.
Florida’s mild weather means there’s no natural off season for many kids who can and do play year round.
“The problem in little league becomes that they’re playing in multiple leagues for multiple coaches so it lends itself to abuse. So in that situation, the parent has to be the advocate for the child, not the coach,” Eaton said.
Dr. Eaton said the best way to keep your little leaguer out of his office is to limit the number of pitches to 75 per week and get adequate rest between starts.