Pitch counts add new wrin­kle to sea­son

Record Observer - - Sports -

When the high school base­ball sea­son be­gins this week, new rules man­dat­ing pitch-count lim­its for play­ers will dras­ti­cally af­fect late-in­ning play.

Re­plac­ing in­nings-pitched rules which have been in use as long as I can re­mem­ber, pitch counts — some­thing in use by pro­fes­sional, col­lege, and Lit­tle League pro­grams for a num­ber of years now — also come with manda­tory rest-day rules, a new wrin­kle which will hope­fully pre­vent some arm in­juries.

By com­par­i­son, there is no pitch limit in soft­ball. As far as I know, there’s no in­nings-pitched rule ei­ther (though Lit­tle League has such rules in some cases) and I don’t re­call there be­ing one in high school play.

This is largely due to the fact soft­ball pitch­ers, who “wind­mill” and throw pitches un­der­handed, use an en­tirely dif­fer­ent arm mo­tion — while throw­ing a big­ger, heav­ier ball, at a lower speed — and thus don’t suf­fer nearly as many arm in­juries as base­ball pitch­ers. A soft­ball team with one re­ally good pitcher can ride her arm all year, and she can pitch when­ever needed with com­par­a­tively few prob­lems. It hap­pens with most teams, as a mat­ter of fact.

As for base­ball, let’s start this ex­am­i­na­tion of the new rules from the Maryland Pub­lic Sec­ondary Schools Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion, as rec­om­mended by the Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of High Schools, last fall, by look­ing at the rules be­ing re­placed.

Last sea­son, if a pitcher — we’ll call him Jake — pitched on Mon­day, get­ting the last out of the first, pitched the en­tire sec­ond in­ning, and got one guy out in the third, he’s only pitched 1 2-3 in­nings, right? Wrong. Un­der NFHS rules, since Jake threw one or more pitches, or was on the field as pitcher while one or more plays, in each of three in­nings, took place, it counts as three in­nings thrown by that pitcher.

Fur­ther­more, Jake could not throw more than 10 in­nings in any span of three con­sec­u­tive cal­en­dar days, and no more than 14 in any seven-day pe­riod of time.

So, if Jake threw the afore­men­tioned three in­nings Mon­day, he could go seven on Tues­day and/or Wed­nes­day com­bined and stay within the limit. He could then throw up to four more in­nings over the next four cal­en­dar days and stay at or un­der the 14-in­ning cap.

Jake could not, how­ever, throw six in­nings on Wed­nes­day and then five on Fri­day, be­cause though he’d still be at his per­mit­ted limit of 14, that would con­sti­tute 11 in­nings over a three-straight-day span of Wed­nes­day, Thurs­day, and Fri­day.

An added wrin­kle was that, if a game got sus­pended, when it was picked back up, the pitch­ing rules from the day of the orig­i­nal play date, and the date of the re­sump­tion, both ap­plied.

In other words, Jake’s prob­a­bly not pitch­ing in the con­tin­u­a­tion of that sus­pended game un­less the rest of the week it was started, and the week it gets fin­ished, are clear of other games.

In 2008, one of the Class 2A semi­fi­nal­ists had to for­feit a vic­tory and a stat­e­cham­pi­onship berth for break­ing this rule. It’s rare, thank­fully, but oc­ca­sion­ally, it gets bro­ken.

Sev­eral years ago, I saw a game get sus­pended twice, and fin­ished on the third try only be­cause they got done be­fore rain that day as well got too heavy. Imag­ine the headache that caused.

By the way, the new rules match ex­actly the age-based pitch-count and rest-day lim­its set forth by Lit­tle League Base­ball.

Fresh­man and sopho­more pitch­ers can throw no more than 95 pitches in a sin­gle ap­pear­ance. I’m as­sum­ing the Lit­tle League “plateau” rule — which al­lows a pitcher to fin­ish a bat­ter, if they started that bat­ter be­low their pitch limit — ap­plies in high school. This means if Jake is at 93 pitches, and Tommy is next up, Jake can pitch to him even if he goes over the 95-pitch limit. (Yes, even if it’s a 13-pitch at-bat, or more.)

Un­like in Lit­tle League, though, the plateau rule does not al­low a pitcher to “de­clare” a hit­ter, and then stop at a rest-day limit.

For in­stance, if a fresh­man throws 20 pitches, he can pitch the next day (it’s 30 for sopho­mores and be­yond). In a Lit­tle League game, his coach could de­clare a bat­ter to be the pitcher’s last one of the day, and keep him at 20 pitches, and thus avail­able the next day, no mat­ter how long that last bat­ter took.

“You can’t do that in high school,” Colonel Richard­son heads coach Dan Mangum said. “You know how in high school the coach could say ‘last bat­ter,’ and keep him at 35 or what­ever many pitches? That can only ap­ply to the up­per limit now.

“So, if the coach wanted to save him for an­other day, he has to pull the kid in the mid­dle of a bat­ter now,” Mangum added. “You can’t do it to keep them from a rest-day limit like in Lit­tle League.”

Here’s a more de­tailed break­down: fresh­men can throw 20 pitches in an ap­pear­ance and not need a day off. Throw­ing 21-35 pitches means a cal­en­dar day of rest, 36-50 means two days, and 51-65 re­quires three.

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