VALRICO — When Bloomingdale senior right-hander Robby Kalaf takes the mound Saturday against district rival Brandon, he will mark an impressive testament to durability for any high school pitcher: the 50-inning mark.
For most pitchers that’s a season’s worth of work. For Kalaf, there’s still nearly a month left in the regular season.
It will be the second time this season coach Kris Wilken gives Kalaf the ball on four days’ rest. The last time, Kalaf responded with five shutout innings against Wharton.
“He’s the only guy I’ve ever had who I feel like I can turn around on four days’ rest,” Wilken said Tuesday after Kalaf threw five innings in a 3-2 loss to Plant. “I took him out at 82 pitches for a reason.”
Entering this season, Kalaf knew he would have to carry much of the pitching load, so over the summer he was consumed with getting into the best shape of his career.
“My stamina is so much better,” Kalaf said. “I can go 120 pitches every game and be fine. Last year, I’d go four innings and be tired. I just made that my priority over the summer.”
Kalaf’s high school career has had its share of ups and downs. As a sophomore, he threw 22/3 shutout relief innings against eventual Class 5A state qualifier Plant in the Bulls’ regular-season opener.
“I kind of got a big head,” Kalaf said. “I didn’t think I had to work.”
Then last year was a seasonlong struggle with mechanical issues, Wilken said, in which Kalaf couldn’t keep the ball down. “We had to take him to the complete other side of the pendulum and bring him back,” the coach said.
Those physical and mental struggles have made the 5-foot-11 Kalaf — who has signed with State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota — the pitcher he is today.
“It shows how far I’ve come,” Kalaf said with a smile. “If I don’t do what I need to, I know I’m going to be struggling on the mound. I know that if I don’t put the time in, I’m going to be garbage out here.”
He began this season with a streak of 292/3 innings without allowing an earned run and starting the year 3-0, highlighted by a complete-game win over district rival Brandon.
In his next outing seven days later, he struck out 11 and threw another complete game in a narrow 2-0 loss to Alonso and ace Jose Fernandez. And Kalaf’s 59 strikeouts trail only Fernandez in the county.
Considering the fact that Bloomingdale plays with county powers Alonso, Brandon and Plant in arguably the bay area’s most competitive district, Kalaf’s role will be even more important as the district tournament approaches.
Wilken isn’t too worried. He likes the ace he has up his sleeve.
“If someone could just see how he’s going to handle the next four days,” Wilken said Tuesday. “He could not come to practice and I know what he’s doing. If I tell him he needs to run 30 minutes, he will bring the stopwatch back at 40 minutes.
“If I have the chance to give him the ball, I’m giving him the ball.”