, Salem, MA


April 2, 2014

Around the Horn: Pitchers adjust to elevation, winter conditions

Elevation means a lot of things to a lot of people. It’s a crucial part of preventing swelling to an athletic trainer, and it’s a key measurement for airline pilots and mountain climbers.

For U2 frontman Bono, ‘Elevation’ is the title to a popular track from the band’s 2000 album. For New England Patriots fans, that song was the team’s home touchdown anthem from 2006 until Bon Jovi replaced it.

In the mind of a pitcher, elevation is none of those things.

It’s the key to his craft.

Throwing a baseball to a batter from atop the mound is nothing new, but it does take some getting used to. Pitchers are aiming for a roughly two-foot square area from 60 feet away, a task far more complicated that it looks from the bleachers. Now, imagine doing that in New England, where the actual elevated mounds have been covered by snow for months before the season starts.

All those throwing sessions on flat ground in the winter are great. But once a pitcher is on top of that mini-hill in the middle of the diamond, it’s an entirely new ballgame.

“It can be difficult,” said Peabody righty Andrew McLaughlin, who won seven games with a 1.49 earned run average last year.

“Getting the footing down from flat ground to the outside mound takes time. In general, getting any live reps outside, pitching to live hitters and just the atmosphere of being outside is what you want.”

Artificial mounds are one tool teams and pitchers use to hone their craft in the weeks before local diamonds are ready. They aren’t ideal because they usually don’t have any dirt. A hurler can get a general idea of where the ball goes when he’s throwing downhill, but if he doesn’t have the give of the soft dirt under his spikes there’s still an adjustment to be made.

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