High school baseball and softball players in Maine have to start the season indoors for obvious reasons. But pitchers and catchers get a week’s head start on the rest of the team to strengthen their arms and reduce the risk of injury or soreness later in the season.

On Monday, gyms across the state echoed with the sound of balls hitting mitts – the opening day for pitchers and catchers to begin throwing. Schools are allowed to have eight pitchers and two catchers for the sessions that continue through Friday.

Next Monday, they’ll be joined by the rest of the team.

Westbrook High’s Blue Blazes, the Class A defending state baseball champions, were split into two groups – two pitchers throwing on wood-frame mounds to catchers positioned across the court in front of the bleachers. After 15 pitches to simulate an inning, two more pitchers took their throws. An assistant coach shot video of each pitcher to examine mechanics.

The 17-3 Blazes graduated their top two pitchers, but return righthanders Ethan Nash and Andrew St. Clair. Nash was the No. 3 starter and St. Clair pitched mostly with the jayvees last season, but has a strong upside.

“Nash and St. Clair are coming back and we’ll fill in with the rest of the guys who pitched well at the lower levels and were on the Junior Legion team that went to the New Englands again,” said Coach Greg Souza.

“I hope they step up and throw strikes. I know we’re going to catch the ball,” he said.

Nash said the goal is to ease into the season.

“We’re looking to get our arms loose and just get ready for the season,” he said.

“This week allows us to focus on throwing. When the rest of the team is here, we don’t get the space to long toss. We try to work on all our pitches during the week, get our control down and communicate with our catchers. After we throw, we switch and do cardio and then run. This week allows us to start to come together as a pitching staff,” he said.

Several of the Westbrook pitchers, like Nash, have been throwing two times a week during the winter.

“My arm is feeling pretty good,” said Nash.

Nash said the team is fortunate to have a veteran catcher to throw to in Kyle Heath.

“We know he’s going to catch everything we throw,” he said.

As defending state champions, the Blazes know teams will want to knock them off.

“We have to be at the top of our game because everyone wants to beat us,” he said.

This spring, it looks like teams will be in the gym for a while. That gets old after about a week and a half. Westbrook has already canceled a round robin at its field that was scheduled for April 5. The Blazes are hopeful of playing a round robin at their field on April 12.

Asked when he felt his team will be able to get outside, Souza said: “I’m guessing a minimum of three weeks.”

“That’s Maine baseball. Everyone is in the same boat. We try to make the best of it.

“It’s fine to be inside for the first week or two, but the guys get antsy after that. When it warms up enough to go outside, we’ll see if we can find a dry patch of grass somewhere and hit fly balls to get the sense of catching the ball in the wind,” he said.

Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or tchard@pressherald.com

Twitter: TomChardPPH