A top-notch education

I t is more than two hours before game time, and Dragons pitching coach Seth Etherton is hunched over a pile of stats on his desk. He has already spent several hours on the field with his charges, running them through warm-up drills and going over their pitching mechanics.

Do your homework

By Marc Katz

It is more than two hours before game time, and Dragons pitching coach Seth Etherton is hunched over a pile of stats on his desk.

He has already spent several hours on the field with his charges, running them through warm-up drills and going over their pitching mechanics.

Now, it’s time to make a pitcher. Not many of us get to see this part, and few would want to.

It’s boring.

It requires a memory.

It is not unlike your job or my job—when I was working at a full-time job.

You have to put in work before you get to work.

Do you think those actors on stage at the Victoria Theatre or Schuster Center see their scripts just moments before they recite their lines in front of an audience? Do you think any one of the bands that play on a big stage or a small local bar don’t work over a song sheet before customers pay to see them play?

Do you think politicians try to govern by just watching television all day and not paying attention to written intelligence provided for them?

Well, forget about that last one.

The answer is, in most jobs, there must be a schoolroom segment to operate at maximum efficiency.

That’s even for athletics. Just owning a 100 mph fastball is not enough. A pitcher has to know when, and how, to use it.

That’s why Etherton—who went through this as an active pitcher, and now is doing it as a coach—is looking at a stat sheet.

He’s looking at the stat sheet to help all 14 (or so) pitchers on the Dragons staff, especially the most important pitcher on that staff, Hunter Greene, an 18-year-old, Cincinnati’s first pick (second overall) in last summer’s amateur free agent draft.

Nationwide, he was declared a sure thing, given a bonus of more than $7 million and had Reds officials crossing their fingers that Greene might start the 2020 opener.

Remember, he’s only 18 and receiving his first pro lessons on how to pitch.

Etherton explained how this works.

“I told the guys I have all the information,” Etherton said. “You ultimately want to be the best student, know the most. Now you’ve got their (the opposing batters’) tendencies. Who swings a lot at first pitches? Who changes their approach with two strikes?

“In the major leagues, you have hitters who want to break you down. That’s why you have to break them down.”

Etherton knew what question was coming. Does Hunter Greene go over the hitters before his games?

He drops his head a little, and turns to the side. Then, he smiles.

“He never did (pre-game),” Etherton said of the early part of the season. “He didn’t want to. Then, he started doing it. It may be information that’s not useful, but he has it.

“(Young) pitchers ask questions. They ask why. We’re here to help out. You throw one good pitch, how do you do it again? You’re not going to be good some days. How do you become consistent?”

Is Greene a good student?

“Yes,” Etherton said without hesitation, “he is.”

He’s this good. Over his first five starts for the Dragons, Greene showed promise and composure, and a 13.97 ERA. Over his next five starts, his ERA was 2.91.

Over the last three of those starts, it shrunk to 1.88.

You don’t need any more statistics.

Etherton holds pre-game meetings to about 10 minutes. The catcher is involved. Greene is a sponge.

“We’re making some adjustments with his preparation,” Etherton said. “We’re trying to figure out what works well for him.”

All these adjustments include the arm slot for each pitch, the way to create more deception, a way to get movement on a ball, not just travel fast through the strike zone.

As Dragons manager Luis Bolivar said, “Everybody today is throwing 95 mph. Most hitters can time that. You have to have movement on the ball, too.”

Etherton has been through his.

“First of all, it’s not high school,” Etherton said. “You have to execute. (Hunter has)

accepted the fact that everything he does, the routine, structure, is all vital. He’s starting to understand that.

“Going over hitters. Now’s the time (in the minors) to start learning. He really took time to ask questions and go through it. He prepared himself very well. That’s a great first step.”

Greene is reluctant to explain everything he does before a game, but he’s ready to do all of it.

“I had a good approach, good game plan,” Greene said following a recent superb outing. “I went over the players with my catcher and coach. I have a routine now. It’s working. I’m coming to the ballpark and know exactly what I have to do to get ready for the game.”

In high school, he’d study math and English, maybe wander home for a snack, take the ball and dominate.

Pre-game study now is the other team’s lineup.

“I’m not looking at the past,” Greene said. “It’s time to get to work. I want to get to the big leagues.”

He’s dominating, again.

 

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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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