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OHSAA institutes high school pitch count

04/19/2017, 1:00am EDT
By By STEVE JUNGA BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Limiting innings, injuries at core of new rule


Baseball coach Dave Hall, in his 32nd season at Perrysburg, says the new pitch count rule has had no real impact on his program, adding that, compared to the previous rule, this is ‘harder to enforce.’ THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY

It is now roughly one-third of the way through Ohio’s first high school baseball season played under pitch-count limits for pitchers, and so far, most area coaches seem to be taking the new rules in stride.

Back in January, the Ohio High School Athletic Association officially adopted the rule change in accordance with a mandate from the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Since the late 1980s, the OHSAA — in attempt to protect the arms of pitchers — had used a rule that limited pitchers to 10 innings pitched in any three-day period.

Although that rule, in place for three decades, was an improvement over having no restrictions at all, the new emphasis is viewed as safer because it focuses on the number of actual pitches thrown.

THE LIMITS: Pitchers are not allowed to exceed 125 pitches on any one day, although if a pitcher reaches his 125th pitch during an at-bat, he may finish his work against that batter before being removed.

Any time a pitcher throws 76 or more pitches in one day, he cannot pitch for the next three days.

Pitchers throwing between 51-75 pitches in one day cannot pitch for the next two days, and if a pitcher throws between 31-50 pitches, he cannot pitch the following day.

As the rules dictate, pitchers could pitch every day of the season if they throw 30 or fewer pitches on those days.

Regarding doubleheaders, if a pitcher exceeds 30 pitches in the first game, he is not permitted to pitch at all in the second game. 

Conversely, if a pitcher throws 30 pitches in the first game, he would be allowed another 95 in the second game under the 125 maximum per-day rule.

If a game is suspended because of weather or darkness — or any other reason — the pitches thrown are counted, and the pitch count also applies to scrimmages.

“It is safer for the players because an inning could be anywhere from throwing one pitch to get the final out of an inning to throwing 30-plus pitches,” said 13th-year Gibsonburg coach Kyle Rase. “However, from my experience, most coaches have their pitchers’ safety in mind and never really pushed the 10-innings-in-three-days rule.”

Per the OHSAA rule, coaches are required to count pitches and submit their players’ pitch counts after each contest to a data collection system created by the association.

Dave Hall, in his 32nd season at Perrysburg, says the new rule has so far had no real impact on his program, and the biggest change from the previous rule is that the new one is “harder to enforce.”

Although the system requires coaches to log on to a website to report the number of pitches thrown, there is no cross-checking or verification procedure in place other than relying on the so-called honor system.

Any team caught violating the pitch-count rules must forfeit any victories in which a player exceeds the pitch limits.

After a quick survey of some veteran area coaches, the consensus is that new pitch-count rule has not caused any major upheaval in their day-to-day handling of pitching staffs. It is a safer option and — although more cumbersome — considered manageable.

“I believe it can only be beneficial to the health of high school pitching arms,” said 11th-year St. Francis coach Tim Gerken. “The accountability to not abuse or overuse [pitchers’] arms is now front and center for everyone.”

The prevailing attitude is that a relatively safe situation is now a little safer. And, whether they approve or not, it is time to adapt.

“The new pitch-count rule has not really changed much of what we are doing,” said 31st-year Central Catholic coach Jeff Mielcarek. “I felt as though our old rule [10 innings in a three-day period] was very good. However, that is now a thing of the past.

“I am all for taking care of kids arms, but I really think that most high school coaches were already doing this.”

Added ninth-year Springfield coach Dave Whitmire: “There is not yet [any impact] at this point. We have always handled our pitchers with the proper care.”

Most of the coaches contacted believe a truer test of balancing the new rules with game strategy won’t really come until the state tournament begins and is intertwined — as usual in Ohio prep baseball — with league and other regular-season games.

RELATED ARTICLE: Expanding high school baseball season an option

ROOM TO IMPROVE: Under the previous rules, which ended after the 2016 season, if a pitcher threw seven innings on a Monday, for example, and three more the next day, he could not pitch at all on Wednesday (the third day), but he would be permitted to throw seven more innings on Thursday.

In another potential scenario, a pitcher could throw 10 innings on a Monday and be permitted to throw 10 more the following Thursday, after just two days’ rest.

In any of these games, there was also no restriction on the number of pitches thrown.

Theoretically, a high school pitcher could throw 200 or more pitches in the approved innings/​day formula and still be allowed to continue, provided he didn’t exceed the 10 innings in any three consecutive days.

In reality, you would be hard-pressed to find any Ohio coach who would allow a pitcher to endure any such high pitch numbers. But the OHSAA has now removed the potential for such overuse of pitchers’ arms.

The new rule adopted by the association focuses specifically on pitch counts and is designed to provide better protection for pitchers.

A LOTT OF INNINGS: Back in 1986, when innings limits and pitch counts were barely a consideration, coach Chris Hardman’s Ottawa Hills team rode the arm of sophomore Andy Lott all the way to a Class A state championship.

Lott was the winning pitcher in all eight tournament victories, including the final two, when he turned in something of a Herculean mound effort. He pitched seven innings in the Green Bears’ 2-1 victory over Cadiz in the state semifinals, and yet he was far from done.

With Ottawa Hills falling behind with one out in the second inning of the Class A title game the next day against Sidney Lehman, Hardman said Lott told him his arm felt fine and to put him in to pitch.

Hardman consented, and Lott worked the rest of the championship game as the Green Bears took an 8-7 win in 11 innings.

Lott, who worked 16⅔ innings in those final two games, did not pitch the rest of the summer, according to Hardman, but came back to excel on the mound his junior and senior seasons. He later pitched four years of college baseball, first at Division III Wooster, then his final two years at Toledo.

“Looking back, Andy wouldn’t change a thing, and neither would I,” said Hardman, who was within the rules at the time. “We were just trying to win a state championship.”

With Lott leading the way as a senior in 1988, Ottawa Hills made it back to the Class A state semifinals, but lost to Newark Catholic.

By then, the OHSAA had installed the 10-inning/​three-day rule.

With scientific studies on the impact of high pitch counts, the game has evolved from the major leagues on down. So has the conventional wisdom of high school coaches such as Hardman, who is in his 37th season with the Green Bears, a run that has included seven appearances in the state final four.

“The [new] rule is fine, although I always felt coaches had a pretty good handle on it before,” Hardman said of transitioning from the 10-inning/​three-day rule to pitch-count limits. “There is a slight challenge in reporting each game but, overall, this is good and fair.”

Contact Steve Junga at: sjunga@theblade.com, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter @JungaBlade.

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