High Heat: April 25
Unconventional yet logical, a simple philosophy has made Arizona's Alderson a marksman
With more than 1,500 fans in attendance, it was one of the largest
crowds to watch a high school baseball game in Arizona. It was the
first round of the annual Cleats National Invitational tournament, with
two nationally ranked teams facing off.
Both teams were starting their ace pitchers, a pair of seniors who had
both signed with major Division I colleges and earned reputations for
bringing 90 mph heat. There were so many scouts, "You couldn't even get
to the snack bar," said Horizon High (Scottsdale) coach Eric Kibler.
And with all of this serving as the backdrop, Tim Alderson did the unthinkable. He walked a batter.
"The way that their bench reacted, they sort of went crazy," said
Alderson, the Horizon righthander who issues free passes with the
regularity of solar eclipses. "I had a perfect game going through five
innings, and even I didn't think it was going to end by me walking
Alderson grimaced as a 3-2 fastball missed outside, and Bishop Gorman
High (Las Vegas) shortstop/righthander Taylor Cole took his base. It
was the first walk Alderson allowed this year, snapping a string of 34
consecutive innings without one, dating back to his junior season when
he racked up 122 strikeouts and eight walks. As a senior, he had walked
two with 60 strikeouts against some of the best competition in
Arizona's largest classification.
"He was mad at himself," said Kibler, whose Huskies were ranked No. 11
nationally. "But come on. We have to have reality here. He's a power
pitcher that throws three to four pitches for strikes. At any level,
you're thinking, 'How long can he keep this up?' It's a ridiculous stat
when you think about it.
"I don't know of any pitchers that have his command."
That's something Kibler has played a major role in. His pitching
philosophy is simple, yet rarely employed, and you'll ask yourself why
the next time you're watching a game and pleading for a reliever who
can find the strike zone.
Kibler, in his 27th year as a head coach, orders his pitchers to work
exclusively from the stretch until they reach their senior seasons,
when they can pitch from the full windup if they choose. It sounds like
a simple adjustment that should not lend drastic results, but Alderson
is one example of how effective it can be.
"When he came here, like most guys, he pitched out of the windup and
(his delivery) was all over the place," Kibler said. "I always start
pitchers out in the stretch because it's the simple movement, and when
they wind up they're all over the place and can't handle the intricacy
of the windup. It's three movements versus one."
Alderson adopted his approach, reluctantly at first, when he agreed to simplify his delivery as a freshman in 2004.
"I didn't understand it at first, but after a couple of bullpens, we
talked about how so many high school pitchers have trouble working out
of the stretch, maintaining their velocity, their breaking stuff isn't
as sharp and their command isn't as sharp," he said. "So why worry
about changing things? Just stick with one motion."
As a sophomore, Alderson's fastball was already touching the high 80s,
and he racked up an 8-1, 0.13 record as Horizon's most successful
pitcher in 2005, when the Huskies won the Arizona 5-A title. Alderson
threw a three-hitter against Hamilton High (Chandler) in the
championship game, striking out 11 in five innings.
He was chosen for the Aflac Classic following his 8-3, 0.95 junior
season and had a tough decision to make last summer while playing
travel ball and trying out for USA Baseball's junior national team.
Hard Habit To Break
He liked the simplicity of pitching exclusively from the stretch, but
he had been told by others that he could throw harder from the full
windup. They also said he could be limited to relief roles in college
and professional baseball if he didn't pitch from the windup.
And while Kibler defends his philosophy with an analytical approach,
breaking down the movements of the delivery, Alderson chose to stick
with it for a less scientific reason.
"I'm really superstitious," he said with a laugh. "If it's worked, I am going to stick with it."
Alderson said he tried throwing from the windup once last summer and
felt comfortable, but chose not to abandon what has helped him become
one of the most accurate amateur pitchers in the country.
He needed just eight pitches, seven of which were strikes, to work a
1-2-3 inning of relief at the Aflac game in August, and he held down
the back of Team USA's bullpen in Cuba a month later at the World
Junior Championship. He made four appearances for the junior team,
which defeated Cuba and brought home a silver medal, striking out 11
with one walk in eight innings.
He's improved his circle changeup and added a two-seam fastball to his
arsenal, giving him four pitches that he shows deft feel for. Though he
repeats his delivery, it isn't picture-perfect. Kibler describes it as
"herky-jerky," but that doesn't seem to make a difference in how, or
where, his pitches wind up.
Alderson has committed to Oregon State but isn't likely to make it out
of the second round of this year's draft, and he is expected to sign.
He says he's willing to adjust his approach depending on what the
coaching staff of his next team recommends, but there are certain
things he plans to adhere to, such as his many other superstitions.
Each morning of a game, Alderson eats the same breakfast (Raisin Bran
and yogurt) and lunch (tuna on wheat), and he always eats a banana--but
only in his car in the school parking lot with the windows rolled
down--before going to class. He drinks a Red Bull at the same spot in
the bleachers before batting practice. He hits in his sweat pants with
his hat always turned to the back.
When the game starts, it's just the next part of the routine. Stretch . . . Set . . . Strike.
AROUND THE NATION
• Calallen High (Corpus Christi, Texas) received a major boost when Kristian Bueno
returned from a hamstring injury against King High (Kingsville, Texas)
in a 14-1 win. The senior lefty threw a no-hitter with eight strikeouts
in five innings, and dovetailed that outing with five innings of
two-hit ball in a loss against Robstown (Texas) High. Texas' reigning
Class 4-A champions were 24-4, and with Bueno back alongside ace
righthander Ryan Duke
poised to defend their title. "We've made a few errors that worry me,
but otherwise I feel pretty good about the way we've been playing,"
coach Steve Chapman
said. Duke, an Oklahoma signee, had completed all eight of his starts this season, going 7-1 with 100 strikeouts and 10 walks.
• Orlando's Olympia High won the 16-team Orlando National Classic
behind wins over Pasco High (Dade City, Fla.) and Madison High (Vienna,
Va.). The event's marquee matchup occurred in the semifinals, when
Madison, ranked No. 14 in the latest BA/NHSBCA Top 50, defeated No. 5
Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) High 4-3.
"We'd been looking at that (possible matchup) for a while, hoping that
would happen and the fact that both teams were ranked, that doesn't
happen that often," Madison coach Pudge Gjormand
said. "From the first minute both teams stepped on the field, you could
just see it in everyone's face. It was cool that the top team in
Virginia and the top team in Florida were matching up. It had a
national feel, which is hard to create."
Madison senior righty Jason Farley
was strong on the mound, keeping the Warhawks within striking distance
until the bottom of the seventh, when Madison senior center fielder David McIntyre
laced a two-run double to right-center field to end the game. Madison senior righthander Sam Gilbert
injured his knee, tearing his meniscus in the seventh inning of the
loss to Olympia. The Penn signee had surgery April 20 and was expected
to return for the playoffs.
• No. 46 American Heritage High (Plantation, Fla.) junior lefthander Ryan Kahn
and junior first baseman/lefty Eric Hosmer
combined on a one-hitter to lead the Patriots to a 4-3 victory in the
championship game of the Sarasota Classic. American Heritage junior
second baseman Austin Yager
was named the tournament's most valuable hitter.
• Parkview Baptist High (Baton Rouge, La.) head coach M.L. Woodruff
won his 500th game. Woodruff, who has a record of 500-130 in 26 seasons
at the helm at Parkview, has coached the Eagles to five straight
Louisiana 3-A titles and nine overall since 1986.
• Tennessee's top teams have been difficult to decipher, as many of the
Volunteer State's preseason favorites had yet to separate themselves.
The club that had compiled the most impressive resume entering May
might have been Murfreesboro's Oakland High, which knocked off 2006
state 3-A champion Knoxville's Farragut High twice on its way to
winning the Warrior Spring Classic in Riverdale, Tenn. Oakland needed
six runs in the bottom of the seventh inning before taking the
championship game 13-12 in extra innings over Battle Ground Academy
, Oakland's senior center fielder, was batting .350-2-21 in 55 at-bats, Memphis signee Marcus Barnes
was batting .451-6-29 and junior first baseman Tennyson Dodd
was hitting .456-5-18 in 57 at-bats.
"All of these juniors and seniors have played a lot since they were freshmen and sophomores," said Oakland coach Mack Hawk
, who compared this year's squad to Oakland's 1999 team that featured Brennan King
, a second-round draft choice of the Dodgers, and Georgia Tech standout Jeremy Slayden
on its way to a final No. 9 ranking. "There's probably not as high a
talent level as the '99 team, but they're right there close with them,
as far as the way we play together."
• A preseason ranking wasn't enough to intimidate Nate Kerkhoff
He took the mound for Blue Valley (Kan.) High in its season opener
against No. 39 Maize (Kan.) High, and pitched a complete game shutout
in a 2-0 victory. He gave up two hits, one of which was an infield
single, and struck out four in the outing. It was his third career
shutout. Blue Valley improved to 7-0.
"I was nervous and excited," said Kerkhoff, a junior lefty who was 3-0,
1.30 with a save and 27 strikeouts overall. "It was the first time I
got to throw 100 percent for more than two innings but I was also
excited because I knew it would be a good game."
• The top two teams in North Carolina squared off in the championship
game of the Shelby Easter Tournament, and the highly anticipated
matchup lived up to its billing. East Rutherford High (Forest City,
N.C.), a 2-A program, proved its mettle by knocking off previously
undefeated and No. 3 ranked South Caldwell High (Hudson, N.C.) 2-1.
East Rutherford junior catcher Michael Milam
took the first pitch from South Caldwell senior lefty Madison Bumgarner
over the 380-foot mark in right-center field for a game-winning home run. East Rutherford senior righthander Ryan Leach
who like Bumgarner has committed to North Carolina, matched his more
ballyhooed counterpart throughout the game, pitching at 88-92 mph while
Bumgarner, a cinch first-round draft pick, was up to 95 mph. East
Rutherford moved into the Top 50 ranking at No. 40, while South
Caldwell slid to No. 11.
Contributing: Nathan Rode.