With the Arizona Wildcats forced to play four games in less than 48 hours to win the Lafayette Regional, the coaching staff decided to use ace pitcher Nathan Bannister on just two days rest.
It worked out for Arizona, as Bannister lasted seven innings in Monday afternoon's game against Louisiana-Lafayette. But it still brought him to nearly 200 pitches thrown over the weekend.
"It was an elimination game for us, so I had to go out and win," said Bannister.
Using up your senior ace like this isn't right though.
ESPN's Keith Law, one of the top baseball talent evaluators out there, and a guy who takes notice of these things, was not shy about burying Jay Johnson for his decision.
Started Friday and again today. Good thing U of A has a good medical school https://t.co/mfwtcwHHt0— keithlaw (@keithlaw) June 6, 2016
After a two-run homer in the 8th by ULL, #Arizona finally pulls Nathan Bannister. He threw 198 pitches Friday/today combined.— Kendall Rogers (@KendallRogersD1) June 6, 2016
mommas don't let your babies pitch for the University of Arizona (because they abuse arms) https://t.co/oySsjiJpw4— keithlaw (@keithlaw) June 6, 2016
While Bannister may not be a high-profile MLB prospect, he's still likely to be drafted this weekend and later sign.
@coachchrisAZ 1, he's a possible senior sign. 2, his ligaments are unaware of his pro prospects and he can blow out just the same.— keithlaw (@keithlaw) June 6, 2016
"We don’t ever attach anything to what we’re doing," Johnson said after the game. "Everybody knows the consequences of these games. That being said, this young man can do no wrong in my eyes. I would never compromise anything with him, or his future, unless we didn’t have 100 percent conviction and commitment to completing this task."
People also wonder if this impacts recruiting. So I went to 2017 Arizona commit Roman Phansalkar, a RHP out of Oklahoma to get his thoughts on the situation and whether it impacts his feelings towards the Arizona staff.
Turns out, he's actually done this exact same thing for his high school team.
"In 2015, the first year we won state, I thew 90 pitches in the first round," Phansalkar explained of his experience. "And then came back for the finals and coach gave me a pitch count, but once I got to that pitch count, I felt strong enough to go the distance, so I didn't want anyone else to finish the game. I wanted to finish the game, and I'm sure that's how Nathan felt."
"It was two days apart," he continued. "First day, took a day off and then came back the third day. I would probably say 180 (pitches thrown in those three days)."
"If I was doing that every day, it would obviously be damaging, but a one-time deal isn't going to effect you in the long run if you treat it right, recover right, run, ice, whatever you have to do to make yourself available, and that's what I did."
This is the only time that he has done this in his career. During their Oklahoma State Championship run this year, capped with a seven-run comeback, Phansalkar pitched on normal rest.
As for if you can group every pitcher as someone who shouldn't be throwing that many pitches on short rest, the high school prospect thinks that it should be up to the pitcher himself.
"I think every pitcher's different recovery-wise," Phansalkar said. "I'm sure Nathan did everything he could that was available to him as soon as possible. I'm sure Coach (Dave) Lawn and the coaching staff thought he was going to be healthy enough to come back the next day."
"As a pitcher, I'd want to throw 200 pitches and take my team to the Super Regional."
Here's the thing. It's fine if the pitcher wants to do it. What decent athlete wouldn't want the ball in that spot, even if they did just throw 96 pitches two days ago? But people above them, whether it's Jay Johnson, or Roman Phansalkar's high school coach, or some of these other coaches that are running their best pitchers out there twice in Regional situations, need to be looking out for their players' arm and long-term health and take the ball away from them.
What's the solution? Three-game series throughout the postseason rather than the Regional set up? Maybe. That would make the baseball season last several weeks longer than it does now and would require a few changes to the current MLB Draft/Short Season Minors system in place right now. But plenty of college coaches have figured out how to space out their pitching staffs in these Regional situations, namely Florida. And going through the winners' bracket gives you the clear advantage if you use your staff right, as it should.
The arm abuse issue needs to be solved though.
Phansalkar happened to actually be in attendance for Bannister's first start of the weekend.
"We were there for the first game," Phansalkar explained. "Then I had to go back to New Orleans to play in a tournament, but we were close by so I got to watch. He did really well and they took care of business."
"It was a pretty crazy atmosphere," the high schooler said about being in Lafayette for an NCAA Regional. "I think the Lafayette crowd was cheering for Sam Houston State because they didn't think Sam Houston could beat 'em, but I wish I would have been able to be at the Lafayette game."
It'll be interesting to see how Johnson uses his pitching staff this weekend. It would be hard to imagine Bannister getting the start in the first game on Friday, but a Saturday start could be likely, giving him an MLB-normal four days rest since his last outing. If this series gets to a third game on Sunday, I would think we'll be hearing some more about Johnson's use of the pitching staff, since there are probably only about six guys that he would feel comfortable throwing meaningful innings at this point.