Professional pitching experience aids dugouts for Seymour, Trinity baseball

Jason Roeder and Elvis Hernandez have been throwing strikes on baseball diamonds for as long as they can remember.

Both are now putting their knowledge about pitching to good use as Roeder is the pitching coach at Trinity Lutheran and Hernandez is the pitching coach at Seymour High School.

Roeder graduated from SHS in 1991, then played baseball at the University of South Alabama from 1992 to 1996.

He was in an automobile accident his junior year.

“I pitched my senior year and I didn’t have the year I wanted, but I slowly started getting better,” he said. “I signed after the season as a free agent with the Kansas City Royals.”

He pitched for two years in the Royals organization, the first year with the Gulf Coast Royals in the Florida State Rookie League.

“I pretty much started with a hurt arm and I extended it as long as I could. When my fastball dropped back down to the 80s, that was it,” he said. “In my second year, after spring training, I got sent to Spokane (Washington) in the Northwest League. In college, I had the closer role. When I left South Alabama, at the time, I had the career saves record, which has now been surpassed. When I got to the Royals, I was a middle relief guy. In the leagues we played in, we didn’t necessarily have a closer because everybody kind of got their turn. I was not a starter. I was out of the pen.”

Hernandez grew up in the Dominican Republic.

“They have a club and they have a coach, and the coach trains you. If you’re ready to get signed, that’s when they scout you,” he said.

In 2002, Hernandez played semipro, and in 2005, he got signed by the St. Louis Cardinals.

“Basically, I played 10 years for the Cardinal organization,” he said.

He started out playing in the Dominican Summer League in the Cardinals organization. He then played one year in the Dominican Fall League, and the next year he came to the United States.

He played rookie ball in Florida for one year, then moved up to Single A in Tennessee, then to Class A in Iowa, Class A in the Florida State league (Jupiter), then he was promoted to Class AA with Memphis.

He suffered an oblique injury and left baseball.

“Every year, I tried to rehab, but I wasn’t getting any better,” he said.

His fastball was topping out at 97-98 before he became injured.

“I was a hard thrower,” he said.

Hernandez first met his wife, Adrian Gibson, while he was pitching in Jupiter. Later, she was working in the front office of the Dubois County Bombers, based in Huntingburg, and he was a volunteer pitching coach for the Bombers.

They married and moved to Seymour. He said this is his 10th year coaching with Jeremy Richey and the Owls.

“I moved here and Jeremy Richey reached out to me and said he would like to have me help the team,” Hernandez said. “I was the assistant pitching coach, then I became the head pitching coach (eight years ago). I’m thankful for my wife and my family. I have three little ones.”

Roeder is working with a young pitching staff at Trinity as there aren’t any senior pitchers on the roster.

He said, “A lot of these guys are working on trying to develop all three pitches. We want everybody to at least have a base of a fastball, a curveball and a changeup, and we’re working on some mechanics. With a lot of the guys, we’re just trying to get them to go up and down straight to the plate, drive to the plate. A lot of their mechanics have to do with working on their control.”

Roeder and Hernandez both said they like to have their starting pitcher for that day begin their pregame routine at least 25 to 30 minutes before the scheduled first pitch.

“Pregame is very important,” Roeder said. “And every day, those guys are working on their off-speed pitches and even their fastball location because they’re learning the two-seam and four-seam fastball. I always tell them there might be a day where they go in the pen and they don’t have their curveball to start the game and they’ve got to survive on their fastball and changeup.

“I tell them just keep throwing it in between innings, when you’re warming up, and even if you throw a curveball on an 0-2 count and all of a sudden you’ve found it again because it’ll come back. You might just lose it for a couple innings. Don’t be scared, start the game without it, you’ll find it.”

Roeder said he calls most of the pitches but does communicate with his pitchers on what they’re feeling.

“Nathan Finke is our catcher and he is a freshman,” Roeder said. “Nathan is learning the game and what to call in certain situations. We usually talk between each inning about what we called and the reason why.”

Roeder says he emphasizes to his pitchers to get ahead in the count.

“The strike is the best pitch in baseball. Our guys are throwing a lot of pitches where they seem to be getting deep in the count, and our pitch count gets up there pretty quick,” he said. “We’re trying to get ahead in the count and be able to dictate what we throw instead of having the hitter dictate what’s coming. We’ve got Nathan Voelker, Peyton Pollert and Kowan Gross as starters with Nathan being a junior and Peyton and Kowan being sophomores. They’ve been progressing, and I’m happy with how they’re coming along.”

He said the players have to adjust to the conditions.

“We have a windy field here, and it seems like every day, the wind is blowing pretty hard,” he said. “The one thing about baseball in Indiana is about the time the weather gets nice, we’re wrapping up the season. It’s kind of frustrating to think that once everything starts to warm up, we’re starting to look toward the sectional.”

The team began preparing for the season working in the gym and in the indoor hitting facility at the high school.

Roeder said, “We try to take advantage of the gym time whenever we can in the winter and we do have a heated hitting barn, which is very nice, so we get to utilize that. We’re outside as much as we can. If it’s cold and the field is dry, we’re out here.”

Hernandez said during pre-game he talks to the pitchers a little bit to calm them down.

“It’s a big situation,” he said. “I’ve been through the same situation, and my pitching coach talked to me about the same things. ‘You need to relax and do your best.’ I work first with them with their mechanics. I want them to have good throwing mechanics. I work with any pitch they need, if they don’t have a slider, curveball, a changeup. They’re working pretty well now. They work hard.”

Hernandez says he calls most of the pitches and that location is the most important thing.

“I tell them when they go in a game, throw a strike and get ahead,” he said. “I look at how the other team is hitting. I tell my pitchers they need to be careful with their good hitters. I want to see how they jump at a fastball or a breaking ball. I tell them to be careful this inning. ‘You have to throw this way to this batter.’ I try to help the pitcher with the location.”

Hernandez believes the experiences he has had have helped him coach the Owls players.

“I played a lot of baseball during my career, and I have been blessed to have really good coaches,” he said. “Dennis Martinez was a pitching coach for me, (Derek) Lilliquist was a pitching coach for the Cardinals, so I’ve had a bunch of good pitching coaches, so I try to teach my kids as much as I can. I want them to be successful. They respect me.”

Hernandez said when he began coaching at Seymour, Zack Brown was pitching for the Owls, and he expected good things out of Brown.

“Baseball is my sport,” Hernandez said. “I come in here and help my community as much as I can. For me, it’s a blast. I couldn’t ask for anything else better than this, being on a baseball field.”

Hernandez has seen progress with his pitchers, as well.

“They have gotten a lot better. I’ve been working with those kids since fifth or sixth grade, all the way up,” he said. “I remember when (Aden) Burnside came to me. He was a skinny pitcher and he had good mechanics and I said, ‘He is going to be good’ and I need to work with him more, so I worked with him. He is a good pitcher.”

Burnside is going to pitch at Marian University next year.

This is Roeder’s first year as pitching coach for the Cougars.

“Other than when I helped Bob Bowman (former Seymour varsity coach) for a few years after I got done with minor league baseball, I’ve probably been out of the game for nearly 25 years,” Roeder said. “I called Ben (Kleber, Trinity head coach) last summer and told him I was willing to help, and he was gracious enough to let me come aboard on the staff, and I absolutely couldn’t love it any more than I do.

“It has resparked that interest in baseball and my love for the game. I look forward to every day coming out here working with the kids. Baseball doesn’t change. Baseball is baseball.”