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Why is throwing to home so hard for pitchers?

Mets relief pitcher Bobby Parnell reacts after throwing

Mets relief pitcher Bobby Parnell reacts after throwing the ball away which resulted in the go-ahead run in the top of the eighth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Citi Field. (April 11, 2011) Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

For guys whose job requirement is to chuck the ball to the catcher with as much control as possible, you’d think that pitchers would have an easy time picking up grounders and throwing it home.

But twice last night, Mets pitchers had difficulty with the maneuver. One resulted in an out, albeit an unsightly one, but the other might have wound up costing the Mets the game against the Rockies.

With the bases loaded and one out in the sixth inning, reliever Ryota Igarashi got Jonathan Herrera to bounce it back to him near the mound. Igarashi caught the ball cleanly and threw home for the force, a throw that was high and wide and pulled catcher Josh Thole off the plate. Thole was able to tap home before Ian Stewart could get there.

Then, in the eighth, Bobby Parnell was in nearly the same situation. With Dexter Fowler on third, he got Carlos Gonzalez to hit a soft chopper back toward him. Parnell scooped it up and his throw was high and went sailing past Thole to the backstop, allowing the go-ahead run to score. Troy Tulowitzki, the next batter, crushed a two-run homer to left.

So just why does a pitcher who is accustomed to throwing strikes – or at least in the case of the Mets’ relievers, accustomed to throwing somewhere in the vicinity of the strike zone – have difficulty making a play when he’s not throwing from 60 feet, 6 inches? 

“You go from one arm-throwing angle to another, and it’s a tough play no matter who you are,” Parnell tried to explain. “Going from pitching off a mound to going to a quick throw to home plate is a tough play. You’re changing arm angles and you become a fielder. That’s why we … practice it day in and day out. You get your adrenaline going and to go out there and do it is tough no matter who you are.”

Even veteran Jason Isringhausen agreed.

“It could happen to me tomorrow,” he said. “I can’t say it’s not going to happen. I have to come back, and I’m very good at throwing it away. I’ve done it before. It’s part of the game. It’s just a ground ball to you. It’s just baseball.”

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