Sycamore pitcher Nelson focuses outside strike zone to weaken opponents’ chances

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(Rob Winner – rwinner@shawmedia.com)
Sycamore senior Scott Nelson is the 2013 Daily Chronicle Baseball Player of the Year.

Scott Nelson practiced throwing pitches outside the strike zone.

Accuracy plagued the Sycamore pitcher during his junior campaign. But in a rare twist, it wasn’t bouts with wildness that drove up his pitch count, something that hurts many high school pitchers.

Instead, it was too much activity in the strike zone that gave opposing hitters too many chances. So, he worked all of last summer on intentionally missing the strike zone. Combined with a commitment to training in the weight room and a clean bill of health for the first time in his baseball career, the Sycamore pitcher was the most dominant force in the area and is the 2013 Daily Chronicle Baseball Player of the Year.

“Scott threw so many strikes his junior year that were right down the middle of the plate,” Sycamore coach Jason Cavanaugh said. “In the summer we practiced throwing every third pitch out of the strike zone. We never knew how good he could be because we never saw a full season of him being healthy. He worked hard to add muscle and you could see it on his frame. He stayed healthy and was great in every start.”

Finally done growing at 6-foot-8, Nelson released his pitches closer to the plate. While a concussion, knee, back and ankle injuries interrupted part of his first three seasons at Sycamore. He added 20 pounds for basketball and was named the Daily Chronicle Boys Basketball Player of the year this winter, as well.

The added weight and a body that had reached full maturity paid dividends this spring.

“I’ve had little, nagging injuries all my life,” said Nelson, who will play basketball at Judson University. “Lifting helped me a lot with staying healthy. I also stopped growing, so my body finally had a chance to catch up with the stress I was putting on it in sports.”

With pin-point control Nelson was able to dictate the terms of an at-bat to hitters. He threw strike one in 66 percent of at bats. Games passed at a swift pace as hitters knew Nelson would be around the plate and sped up their approach. Economical with his pitches, in 10 starts, Nelson was 8-1 with a 1.15 ERA.

“Scott worked hard to throw out of the strike zone,” said Cavanaugh about the Spartans’ ace, who had 49 strikeouts and nine walks in 66 innings. “I’ve never had to practice with a pitcher throwing balls before. Normally it’s the other way around, we work on little things to find the strike zone. But in his games, hitters got in swing mode and the games flew by.”

It was a coach’s dream, Nelson’s games were played so quickly they were home before dinner got cold.

“Every game was the same formula,” Cavanaugh said. “The game would move by so quickly. Because Scott held the other team to such uneventful moments we’d have to double-check the stats, and sure enough, it’d be the sixth inning and he’d have 70 pitches and be on cruise control. We played the fastest games in the world this year.”

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