Column: Jim Penders needs to treat his star pitchers with caution

Mason Feole pitches during UConn's game against Memphis on April 9, 2017. (Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog)

Those who have seen Mason Feole pitch would be hard pressed not to think of Anthony Kay while watching him. A hard throwing lefty, the freshman burst onto the scene in a season where most people expected Tim Cate to be the Huskies’ best pitcher. In seven starts, he’s 5-0 with a team-best 2.28 ERA, most recently shutting out conference foe Memphis with eight shining innings to help the Huskies complete their second consecutive conference sweep.

That’s not to take anything away from Cate, though. The sophomore is not far behind his teammate with a 2.40 ERA and a 3-1 record in five starts. He was great last year and over the summer, when he played for USA baseball.

Jim Penders better not destroy these two.

Don’t get me wrong, head coach Jim Penders is a great guy and a great coach that all the players love. But his tendency to overuse his starters has real ramifications. Last season, UConn had a superstar in Kay, a southpaw with a fiery fastball and some wicked off-speed pitches. During the American tournament, he made the decision to pitch Kay on three days rest after he threw a complete game on 101 pitches against Memphis, which I regard as the nail in the coffin for Kay’s arm. Kay was drafted by the Mets in the first round, but is missing the entirety of this season with Tommy John surgery. There’s no question that it was Penders’s liberal use of him that resulted in this, as he was the anchor of the rotation for the 2016 season.

Feole is no different, and Penders is already utilizing him to his fullest; he went eight innings in his last start and seven the start before, and has logged the second-most total innings (43.1) behind Wills Montgomerie (47.0 innings). Cate has pitched 30.0 innings in five starts, but since UConn is more or less operating on a three-man rotation with a streaky bullpen, much like last year, he will be expected to pitch at least six innings per start, which is what he’s averaging right now.

Last season, Penders had the tendency to make a lot of frequent, sometimes unnecessary, pitching changes. This season has been better, but it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t proceed with caution, especially with conference play in full swing. Even though Feole is a freshman and Cate is a sophomore, I can’t imagine either of them staying at UConn past their junior year if they keep up their level of play.

Some of the speculated causes of the increase in Tommy John surgeries around baseball is the rigor and frequency at which ballplayers play nowadays—there is a league for every single season, and kids are pitching nonstop throughout the year if they want any hopes of playing baseball beyond high school.

Even though these guys are so young, too much wear-and-tear early on will set the stage for the possibility of tearing their UCL later down the line. With Kay going down right after leaving UConn, Penders needs to stay cautious and make sure he doesn’t put his newest star pitchers on the path for Tommy John.

Correction: This article previously stated that Anthony Kay started a day after he threw 101 pitches. This is incorrect, as he pitched a complete game against Memphis on May 25, and then pitched against Houston in the conference finals on May 29.


Stephanie Sheehan is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus, covering men’s basketball. She can be reached via email at stephanie.sheehan@uconn.edu. She tweets @steph_sheehan.