READING — Scott Tully kicked his right leg into the air, cocked his left arm back, and fired fastball after fastball at hitters in the Lincoln-Sudbury Regional lineup, the ball humming melodiously as it cut through the cold spring air.
The senior lefthander turned in a three-inning performance in a scrimmage against the Warriors on Wednesday, striking out six of the nine batters he faced and allowing just two singles and no runs.
After 49 pitches, he went back to the high school gymnasium and fired 50 more before returning to the bench with his arm wrapped heavily in ice.
Like most pitchers playing baseball in the Northeast, it is an arduous task to get the arm in shape for a season that is prefaced with a short, two-week preseason. If the winter snow hits hard like it has, that preseason is even shorter.
“It was a little bit cold and a little bit tough to get loose,” Tully said after Wednesday’s scrimmage. “But I started throwing the ball well in the second inning and hopefully I can build off that for the rest of the year. I went into the gym and got right up to game speed. Everything felt awesome in there and I was really encouraged.”
Last season, Tully anchored the Rockets staff with an 8-1 record, a dazzling 0.82 earned run average, and a school-record 114 strikeouts. The program’s career leader with 290 career strikeouts, he will attend Notre Dame in the fall.
Reading finished the regular season 16-4, but lost to Division 2 champion Burlington in the North semifinals. As the Rockets make another push for a state championship this season, Reading coach Pete Moscariello is more than comfortable putting the ball in Tully’s hand.
“He’s been starting games since a freshman, and he’s a very hard worker,” Moscariello said. “He’s got good mechanics, but what makes him special is he is a tremendous competitor. He has a great desire to excel and always pitches himself to be better. He loves the ball in big games.”
During the colder months, pitchers are often the warmest players on the field, as they are constantly moving. But Moscariello, who has been coaching at Reading for 35 years, said it is still a challenge to get arms ready and up to speed.
“It’s what all New England coaches deal with,” Moscariello said. “Pitchers all like it when it’s 80 degrees and warm, but short of that, they have to get used to it.”
Although it is easy to rely on a workhorse like Tully, Moscariello said he focuses on maintaining a deep staff of pitchers to shoulder the load. This season, senior Garrett Collantino and junior Sean O’Neil will add depth to the starting rotation, and Moscariello will also rely on Steve Roesler , Nathan Terry, and Rob DiLoreto .
“We’ll need them all,” Moscariello said. “You get into long games, high pitch counts, and rainouts — we use five or six guys per week.”
So how does Tully keep his arm fresh throughout the taxing season?
“I always make sure to run after I pitch and ice down my arm,” Tully said. “That’s really the only way to stay healthy. In games, I try to put a positive spin on it. If it’s going to be this cold, the only person moving every pitch is the pitcher and that gives me a distinct advantage.”
At Peabody High, coach Mark Bettencourt has a star in senior Pat Ruotolo , who tossed back-to-back no-hitters as a junior, went 8-1 and struck out 130 batters to earn the Northeast Conference MVP award.
“The biggest thing you worry about when a pitcher has a great junior year, you get concerned if he’s going to come out and try to duplicate it or beat that,” Bettencourt said. “I had multiple conversations with Pat to take it one game at a time, and don’t focus on the season as a whole, but focus outing to outing, workout to workout. We focus on the routine.”
Like Moscariello did at Reading, Bettencourt made it a priority to stretch his pitching staff. After going 16-6 last regular season, Peabody lost to Lynn English, 5-1, in the Division 1 North first round.
At the end of the season, Bettencourt said, he felt he ran out of pitching. So after the season ended, he approached second baseman David Apostolides , shortstop Andrew McLaughlin , catcher Brandon Butcher, and first baseman Derek DeMild and asked them all if they would give up their positions and devote themselves solely to the pitching staff for their junior seasons.
“We needed arms and guys that can throw strikes,” Bettencourt said. “I’ve explained that and they accepted it. They could have said no, but they said they’d do whatever the team needs.”
Ruotolo accounted for half of the team’s 16 wins, and was happy when his teammates stepped up to add depth to the staff.
“It’s great to have other kids that can win games,” Ruotolo said.
To protect his staff, Bettencourt limits his pitchers to a pitch count, regardless of the game situation.
Of course, there are some exceptions for someone like Ruotolo, who pitches throughout the offseason to extend his pitch limit for the start of the season.
“Pat’s work ethic away from us is like nothing we’ve ever seen,” Bettencourt said. “He works two or three days a week during the hockey season, and at his first start, he’s ready to throw 120 pitches.”
In season, Ruotolo said the pitchers also do a lot of conditioning with resistance bands to stay in shape.
On Wednesday, the Tanners opened against defending Division 1 champion Xaverian and McLaughlin pitched five innings. Despite being tied 1-1 with the Hawks, Bettencourt pulled McLaughlin at 82 pitches — two over the limit he set before the game.
“The philosophy is, there is not one game worth a player’s health,” Bettencourt said. “McLaughlin could have gone a sixth inning, but he was at 82 pitches and we had him at 80.”
Sophomore Ryan Collins delivered a timely two-out, two-run single to give the Tanners a 3-1 lead, and Apostolides gave up a run in the sixth but slammed the door on the Hawks in 1-2-3 fashion, using just eight pitches to earn the save.
“To see McLaughlin and Apostolides take on the number-one team and come out with a win makes me smile, and they’re buying into my system,” Bettencourt said. “That’s a good situation for us as a team.”