Even if you’re blessed with a great fastball, pitching is a frightening experience.
More than almost any other position in a team sport, you’re on your own. Make good pitches and you look like a hero. But when a pitcher leaves a pitch over the plate and it gets launched into the seats, all fingers point at the guy on the mound.
It takes guts to go out and pitch in any situation, but for the pitchers of Team Italy, it takes just a little bit more. It’s one thing to be the alpha male when you can rear back and throw a fastball by anyone. It’s another to control a game where you’re throwing changeup after changeup against hitters who are comfortable digging in.
Many of Italy’s pitchers lack a quality fastball. They don’t lack courage.
Italy has managed to survive two games of topping slow with slower. Tiago Da Silva did it in the win over Mexico on Thursday. Chris Cooper (84-86 mph fastball), Brian Sweeney (87 mph fastball) and Pat Venditte (82-83 mph fastball) did the same in Friday’s 14-4 win over Canada.
“We have a bunch of battlers that will do whatever you tell them to do,” Team Italy pitching coach Bill Holmberg said. “We always preach the fact that we have to go with our best pitch. If your best pitch is a changeup, then that’s what you’ve got to throw. The key to it is sequencing. You have to keep hitters off balance. We try to throw to a players’ weakness. Don’t give them anything to crush.”
Actually that’s not entirely true. Italy has given up some majestic bombs to opposing hitters in its first two games. But they have almost all been loud foul balls.
“There have been quite a few, but they are long strikes,” Holmberg said. “We tell them, let them hit the ball as hard as they can as long as it’s not a fair ball.”
Italy’s pitching staff may struggle against Team USA on Saturday. The team decided to stack the staff to face Mexico and Canada. All but two pitchers (Tim Crabbe and Marco Griffantini) have already seen action and Saturday’s starter Luca Panerati, pitched as a reliever on Thursday. But with a 2-0 record including a 10-run win over Canada, even a run-rule loss to the U.S. on Saturday might not be enough to keep Italy out of the second round.