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 > Little League Online > Learn More > Newsletters > Coach's Box Newsletter > 2007 > Coach's Box - January 2007 > Pitch Count - January 2007

Pitch Count - January 2007


Volume 2, No. 1  

   January 2007


Digging In: Major League Hitting Coach Says Little League Pitch Count Is No Reason to Become Passive at the Plate

By Chris Downs
Media Relations Manager
Little League International

At one time or another, nearly every Little League coach has encouraged a batter to “see the pitch … hit the pitch.” Such a simple mantra sounds elementary, but will it make the game easier or more difficult now that the pitch count is part of Little League Baseball?

Jeff Manto, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ hitting instructor, and a 25-year Little League volunteer in his hometown of Bristol, Pa., sees the pitch count influencing many aspects of the Little League game.

“My hat’s off to Little League,” Mr. Manto, who has three children currently playing Little League, said. “As a parent, it’s a comfort knowing that my kids won’t be abused. I think it’s admirable, but it will be different, because now the rule will protect the player and possibly hinder the coach.”

Breaking down hitting against a pitcher on a pitch count, Mr. Manto admitted having mixed emotions, because he can’t be sure of how long 85 pitches will take.

“It’s tough to throw a strike in Little League,” Mr. Manto said. “I think every player on the team should learn to pitch, since an 85-pitch limit may end up being only three innings in a ballgame.”

Having coached Little League, and with his experience teaching professional hitters how to work a pitcher, Mr. Manto said that the older a player gets the more he learns how to be selective. When coaching Little League-age players, deciding what pitches to hit should not be overanalyzed.

Mr. Manto’s advice to coaches is basic common sense. “If a player gets a good pitch – hit it,” he said. “I tell hitters to pick the ball up out of the pitcher’s hand and recognize where you think the ball will go. Coaches should stay away from getting too complicated.”

The question then becomes: What is a good pitch? “Location at the Little League level is all 17 inches of the plate,” the Pirates hitting coach said. “The majority of young pitchers are just trying to hit the catcher’s glove. The pitcher’s job, no matter what else they do, is to make sure the catcher catches the pitch.”

In Mr. Manto’s opinion, a fastball and change-up are all a Little Leaguer needs to throw. The coaches will have more of a challenge to evaluate and draft players who can develop into pitchers, knowing that they most likely will go through three or four per game.

“Coaches will have to pay more attention to mechanics,” Mr. Manto said. “Working with a pitch count puts a lot of responsibility on the coaches to get more education through clinics, seminars, etc., to learn the mechanics of pitching. Almost as important as knowing the mechanics are learning the signs of fatigue.”

Noting that most young players don’t have the stamina to pitch deep into ballgames, Mr. Manto said it will become essential for coaches to know their pitcher’s physical mannerisms even if they are not nearing their pitch limit.

“The bottom third of the order (batters 7-9) are hard to pitch to,” he said. “Pitchers will have to throw strikes to these batters, or risk burning up pitches.”

Defenses will also benefit under the pitch count. The expectation of more balls being in play means the defense will be more alert and ready on every pitch.

“Strategically, promote aggressiveness at the plate,” Mr. Manto said. “I would not worry about the pitch count. It’s more important to have young players swinging the bat, and not getting mentally deflated by a called third strike – stay positive.”

A veteran of 16 seasons in professional baseball, Mr. Manto played five seasons in the Major Leagues with several teams and also spent time in Japan. He ended his playing career in 2000 and started his coaching career one season later. He was Pittsburgh’s minor league roving hitting instructor from 2003-05, and served as the Pirates hitting coach last season.

Mr. Manto is currently the information director for Bristol Borough Little League in Pennsylvania District 21. Daughters Gabrielle, 12, and Andreana, 9, play in the league’s softball program, and son, Jeffrey, 8, is in his second year in the Minor Division.

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