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Around the diamond

Protecting the future of their pitchers

Wary of injury, coaches pull aces from field play

Plymouth North baseball coach Dwayne Follette, shown above talking to his team at practice, offered to relieve senior pitcher Brian Christian (below) from his duties at shortstop.

Debee Tlumacki for The Boston Globe

Plymouth North baseball coach Dwayne Follette, shown above talking to his team at practice, offered to relieve senior pitcher Brian Christian (below) from his duties at shortstop.

Brian Christian , a senior at Plymouth North High, will pitch at Northeastern. Bridgewater-Raynham’s Jack Connolly is headed to Notre Dame. Braintree High junior Bobby McNiff has a scholarship waiting at the University of Rhode Island.

For the trio, and every other pitcher, torque is critical to their success.

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Torque is the measure of force that causes an object to rotate — turning power, basically. It’s what gets tires moving in a car, and also what helps pitchers like Christian whip their forearms forward to release baseballs at speeds approaching 90 miles per hour.

But with that torque always comes valgus torque, which is what leads to ligament damage over time. Each throw in any sport adds stress, though pitches do the most damage.

Due to increased awareness, torque now has baseball coaches around the area twisting and turning. Trying to balance the health of their pitchers with team success, they must decide whether their pitchers can sustain playing another position when it is not their turn on the mound.

When Plymouth North baseball coach Dwayne Follette pulled Christian aside last season and asked him about giving up his playing time in the field, his pitcher was in agreement.

After experiencing arm problems as an 11-year-old, the 6-foot-2 righthander said he had been thinking about surrendering his duties at shortstop for a while. His parents had talked about it too.

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“I don’t know where I’d be and how I’d be feeling today if we had not made the switch,” said Christian, who gets at-bats at designated hitter when he is not on the mound.

Follette said he made the decision for Christian’s sake. His 13-7 squad took on Hingham High in the first round of the Division 2 South tourney on Friday.

“Protecting his arm was the better thing for him, for me, for his future — when a kid has a future or has a chance to have a future, it’s the coach’s prerogative to protect them.”

In 2009, Follette had an ace in Joe Flynn , a two-time Globe Player of the Year now at Franklin Pierce University. When he wasn’t on the mound, Flynn played third base or shortstop.

In May 2012, he underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

No one knows for sure if Flynn’s workload in high school led to his injury in college — sure-fire answers are hard to come by on the issue of torque in baseball — but that injury clearly has had an impact on Follette.

“I’ve been coaching 20 years and I don’t have the answer; I know I shouldn’t make them throw 140 pitches, and that’s all I know,” Follette said. “It’s tough. You want to win at all costs — everyone’s ultimate goal is to go as far as you can — and at the same time protect players’ health.”

At Braintree, McNiff used to play center field, and shortstop, in addition to pitching. He wishes he could still play another position in the field. He has felt better by resting his arm, but spending game days running after foul balls and keeping stats is equal parts boring and frustrating.

His first two years at Bridgewater-Raynham Regional, Connolly focused solely on pitching, but now plays shortstop as well. Fellow pitcher Andrew Noviello steps in at short when Connolly is on the mound.

Connolly is excited that he is able to contribute when it is not his turn to pitch.

Still, he added, he is always thinking about protecting his arm.

“If I have to gun it over, I’m not going to do that to my arm because I know pitching comes first,” Connolly said. “Don’t risk hurting your arm with the arm angle or throwing it over losing your entire career at the position you love.”

Buckets are part of the solution for Hingham coach Frank Niles.

Harbormen pitchers John Carlson and David Hutchins play in the outfield and at catcher, respectively, when they do not pitch.

But the day after an outing, Niles has his pitchers carry a bucket around practice; they drop balls into it during fielding drills rather than throwing them back.

Hingham shortstop Joe Leahy is not on the bucket routine. Though Niles said his captain can pitch, he is more valuable as a shortstop.

“If you think they are the same shortstop after throwing 100 pitches, you are out of your mind. You’re just asking an awful lot of a kid,” Niles said.

“I try not to pitch him because I notice the difference the day after he pitches — he’s hurting, he’s not the same shortstop, and it affects everything.”

Dr. Luke S. Oh, a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, recommends customized and individualized plans for each of his patients. But he said that time playing in the field must always be considered in addition to traditional pitch counts.

“Although the torque on the shoulder and elbow isn’t the same, you are still putting a pitcher’s shoulder and elbow in a position for overuse,” said Oh, who is a team physician for the New England Revolution and the Patriots, as well as a consultant to the Red Sox and Bruins.

“The pitching schedule they have without sufficient rest in between is already making shoulders prone to injuries, and having them play other positions is not the wisest thing to do.”

Oh added that the stress put on high school pitchers often forces them to discern between the type of pain that requires a “bucket day” and the type that demands medical attention.

Still, he said, putting restrictions on a young player is always a complicated decision.

Quincy High coach Pat Bryan said he can relate to that struggle after growing up as both a pitcher and a middle infielder.

A 1994 Boston College High graduate, Bryan knows how stressful — physically and mentally — playing both can be.

That’s why he hoped to establish a dedicated pitching staff before realizing there just was not enough talent on his roster.

“You can do that at the bigger schools,” he said, “but at schools like Quincy High, you are always going to need those kids who can play both positions.”

Brockton sending
2 teams to tourney

For the first time in five years, both Brockton High baseball and softball teams qualified for the state tourney.

The baseball team improved from 7-13 a year ago to go 9-11, earning a share of the Big Three title. Their wins came while playing a schedule that included four games against Super Eight competition among 16 tournament-bound teams.

The softball squad went 5-15, but also earned a share of the Big Three championship after New Bedford beat Durfee last weekend. The Boxers lost to Weymouth, 1-0, in the preliminary round.

“We definitely improved our hitting from last year . . . and we pitched a lot better,” Brockton baseball coach Bill Maloney said. “I’m glad the softball team made it in too. . . . Hopefully we are going in the right direction.”

In coin toss, B-R girls win the No. 1 seed

After 20 games each, including a pair of one-run games between the two, Silver Lake and Bridgewater-Raynham’s quests for the No. 1 seed in the Division 1 South softball tournament came down to a coin flip.

B-R coach Mike Carrozza found out that his team earned the No. 1 seed thanks to the tie-breaker via a text message from a coach at the MIAA meeting.

Lakers coach Tony Pina found out his girls received the No. 2 spot in an e-mail around the same time. Each team’s only loss came against the other.

Jacob Feldman can be reached at jacob.feldman@globe.com.

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