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A tough decision to be made about Datres

June 13, 2014 - Mitch Rupert
I dare you to tell Kyle Datres he can't pitch today. I dare you to even hint at the idea he shouldn't pitch today in the state championship game.

Competitive? That ship sailed long ago for the Loyalsock junior right-hander. Linguists are still trying to find a word which adequately describes his competitiveness.

Datres is everything you love to see in a high school athlete. He's a perfectionist, trying to be better today than he was yesterday, oozing a competitive nature which Michael Jordan would envy. He sees the game differently, plays the game differently, and good lord is he fun to watch.

Football, basketball, baseball, he's Loyalsock's go-to guy, the quarterback, the point guard, the shortstop and pitcher. He's the kid who wants the ball in his hands when the pressure is at its most unbearable.

Today, though, the right decision might be for Lancers head coach Jeremy Eck to take the ball out of his lethal right hand. State championships are nice – really nice. Those banners will hang in gymnasiums for years, decades, probably even centuries, to come. But at what price?

If Kyle Datres were to pitch today, it would be his fourth start in 12 days. He's already thrown 282 pitches over the course of 19 innings in that time. All four games would be started on just three days rest.

There's probably a better chance Jeremy Eck could win a wrestling match against King Kong than there is of him convincing Datres he shouldn't pitch this morning against Central (Martinsburg) in the PIAA Class AA title game. But this might be an opportunity for Eck to save Datres from himself.

More than 40 Major League Baseball pitchers have had Tommy John surgery this year and elbow injuries have become the new hot-button topic around baseball at all levels. Prevention of catastrophic injuries to the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow starts on days like today.

Datres wants to pitch. Eck wants him to pitch. Everybody wearing Lancers maroon inside Medlar Field at Lubrano Park this morning wants him to pitch. Kyle Datres pitching represents Loyalsock's best chance at winning a second consecutive state championship. Ever since Luke Glavin was lost for the season with a blood clot in his pitching shoulder which required emergency surgery, Eck knew this development would eventually rear its ugly head.

The rules say Datres has had his required rest to start today's game after throwing seven gutsy innings in the state semifinals Monday. Conventional wisdom say throwing again today would put the kind of strain on his howitzer of a right arm which can lead to injuries. It's not a fact which has been lost on Eck. Following Monday's win, he was already agonizing over what he was going to do.

Datres isn't just a really good high school pitcher. He's a player with a bright future in baseball. He's already committed to play at the University of North Carolina in 2016, and he's a player who could have pro scouts all over his games come draft time next year.

“I'm worried about his arm. He's thrown more innings in the playoffs than he has all year long. My job is to help him get to college and be successful there. I'm scared to death for him, but he wants the ball,” Eck said unprompted during Monday's postgame interview. “I'm going to make a decision that's going to be the best for our team, but how do you not give him the freakin' ball?”

Datres is unquestionably the Lancers' ace, but Eck has used him sparingly in the last two seasons. He's saved him for the biggest of regular season games, the ones with league title implications or the ones against the best opponents, and the biggest of postseason moments. Remember when he nearly tossed a no-hitter against defending Class AAA state champion West York? Remember when he came into a tight game in states against Lakeland and Delone Catholic and shut the door on those teams last year? Those are the moments he's saved for.

Eck had that luxury with Duke commit Glavin also in the rotation. It was Glavin who matched up with Stanford commit Colton Hock from Bloomsburg in an early-season game this year. It was Glavin who started state playoff games last year against Lakeland, Delone Catholic and Salisbury. Glavin was the one who tossed a complete game, five-hitter in the state semifinal win over Salisbury last year.

That luxury no longer exists. Robbie Klein hasn't been an option on the mound because of a back injury which nearly cost him his season. Phil Krizan and Andrew Malone have been godsends for the Lancers, picking up the slack where they could, including combining to win the District 4 championship game.

But once states hit, Eck knew he was going to have the opportunity to lean hard on Datres. He helped save himself by throwing less than 70 pitches in five innings of a lopsided win over Bald Eagle Area. But he went a full, tough seven innings in a win over Notre Dame-Green Pond. And he labored through seven innings in Monday's thrilling win over Neumann-Goretti. He's doing something he's never done before, and his body probably isn't prepared to do. There's a reason professional pitchers don't pitch on three days rest for four games in a row like Datres may be in the midst of doing.

The three days rest between starts hasn't been enough time for Datres to completely replenish his gas tank, but he's had to pitch in situations which require one. Monday, after a quick start which showcased Datres being the Kyle Datres everybody in District 4 knows, he labored through the middle innings, clearly tired, clearly working on fumes, but clearly battling with a fastball which sat at 88-89 mph for all seven innings.

“I definitely didn't have a full tank of gas going out there, but I gave it everything I had. I'm going on empty,” Datres told the Sun-Gazette's Chris Masse following the game. “I'll get a day's rest here, take care of my arm and see what I can do. If someone has to step up, they have to step up, but I'm going to give it everything I have.”

Datres knows he's going to pitch today. He's been preparing for this start since catcher Evan Moore applied the tag for the final out Monday. But if he really is running on empty, his risk of injury increases exponentially.

The American Sports Medicine Institute, run primarily by noted Tommy John surgery expert Dr. James Andrews, and research director Dr. Glenn Fleisig, released a position statement last month in response to the rash of players being afflicted with elbow injuries leading to Tommy John surgery.

“Research has shown that the amount of competitive pitching and pitching while fatigued are strongly linked to injury,” the statement read.

“Pitching and training create small tears in the tissue; rest, nutrition, and hydration repair the tears. A pitcher and his team should have a plan, but that plan needs to be monitored and sometimes adjusted depending on how the pitcher feels. Specifically, the pitcher should keep his trainer or coach up to date about any soreness, stiffness, and pain. That way when there is an issue, the player and team can consider rest, modified activity, or examination from the team physician to allow the elbow to heal and avert serious injury,” the statement also read.

Jeremy Eck knows all this. He knows the risks in sending Kyle Datres to the mound this morning. He also knows the reward in sending Kyle Datres to the mound. He's not just making a decision for himself. He's making a decision for North Carolina, for Datres' future, and the other players and coaches wearing a Loyalsock uniform today.

It's not an enviable position. Do you want to be the person to tell Kyle Datres he shouldn't pitch? Jeremy Eck will gladly hand you the job.

Mitch Rupert can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at mrupert@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Mitch_Rupert.

 
 

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